New Tennis Coach Moves from Player to Staff

By Ashley Francis

 

Assistant Coach Gene Nakagaki as Lehman played Albertus Magnus on April 9, 2017. Photo by Ashley Francis.

Lehman’s new assistant tennis coach, Gene Nakagaki, has come a long way since his senior year at Eastchester High School when he was unsure where tennis would take him. Then his high school coach, Tim Otoshi, encouraged Nakagaki, whose newfound interest in the sport turned it into a beloved vocation. In high school, Nakagaki recalled, “I was just fooling around on the court.”   When he came to Lehman, he became a star on the court leading the Lightning all four years he attended, graduating in 2016. This year, Lehman’s tennis coach Ana Belzunce saw a spot for him on her staff.

Now the newly acquired coach has to adjust to his new role. He admitted that he misses playing on the court.  “I’m not used cheering them on,” he said of not being on field with teammates. However, on the field as a coach, Nakagaki presents himself with knowledge and carries himself beyond his years.

Lehman’s head tennis coach, and former tennis player at the University of Maryland, Ana Belzunce was the person who ultimately led Nakagaki to return to Lehman. He explained how she invited him back last season to volunteer as an assistant coach for a dominating the women’s tennis team. The 2016 season was also Belzunce’s first season coaching the Lightning, and this experience inspired her to ask him to join her staff in 2017. The position is an opportunity for him to help the players and transfer his skill set to use on their behalf so the team will develop after not having an assistant coach last season.

For the players, it hasn’t been difficult to get used their new coach. Senior Adrian Grant appreciates Nakagaki’s presence on the court and doesn’t feel intimidated by his former teammate. “The same passion he played with as a teammate, he also carries as a coach,” Grant said, emphasizing how Nakagaki carried the same intensity into new role. Communication has been a plus with him because he makes sure the players remain involved by breaking down plays to win against the opposition.

As the team played Albertus Magnus on April 9, Nakagaki showed players how to fix their posture while preparing to battle.  He even knows when to joke around with the team because he still has a close relationship with them as a former player.

In Nakagaki’s first season, he hopes to work on giving his players more advice. Things have been somewhat of a challenge coming in because he is not playing, but now leading from the bench. Coach Belzunce, however, believes in him. “He’s been great this season,” she affirmed, “and brings a lot of energy.”  

New Coach Aims to Turn Around Lehman Softball Slump

By Ashley Francis

The Lightning huddles as they prepare for a doubleheader matchup against St. Joseph’s on April 15. Photo by Ashley Francis.

This season hasn’t been a walk in the park for the women’s softball team. With new players and a coach in her first year, the Lightning have a lot of potential obstacles to overcome if they’re to make it through. In the previous season, they had had a subpar record, averaging out as an under .500 team. The 2017 campaign also started in a severe slump, with the Lightning starting 1-14 throughout March. This performance means the new coach, Erin Van Nostrand, will have her hands full for the rest of this season.

Van Nostrand, who took over the position at the start of the season, makes the team’s fifth coach in four seasons. With her history of success, it is  hoped that she will turn the team’s losing streak into a winning one. In 2012, Van Nostrand was named Softball Coach of the Year after leading the Pacific Lutheran University Lutes to win the 2012 NCAA Division III National Championship.

Given the many coaching changes of the Lehman team, she hopes bring that same intensity to the Lightning. “It’s been an adjustment to go from a nationally ranked team to [a team] trying to rebuild,” she commented. The Lightning has a lot athleticism, she added, but needs to develop a better understanding of a winning culture.

During an intense practice in preparation for the upcoming double header against St. Joseph’s College, it was apparent that the team was looking for new ways to regain confidence after two wins before spring break.

Player of the Week Maranda Diaz said that in her opinion, communication will determine the outcome of the season. The essentials, she added, are “coming together as a team, communicating more, and just working as a team.” She has been on a roll of late, going 9-for-12 (.750) with seven runs and nine runs batted in, without a doubt showing up as one of the few bright spots for the struggling Lightning.

Lehman senior Linda Resto, who has had quite the career after leading the team in RBI’S last season as she nears graduation with a major in social work, explained that there was a point early on this season when she felt overwhelmed and took a break to gain some clarity. However, she says, having a new coach has boosted her confidence. “The coaching has been the best it’s been since I’ve been here,” said Resto.

Maranda Diaz and Arlette Martinez during practice. Photo by Ashley Francis.

Van Nostrand encourages her players not to be defeated, but instead to strive. “Don’t give it anything more or anything less, but play with all you’ve got” she said. “This is your college experience.”

The Lightning won eight of their last ten games, but the season came to a tragic end after losing to Hunter College on May 7, 2017 in the CUNY playoffs.