Real Talent Returns

With the wind howling out of the North, hooded coaches blast commands of steam at their soccer players to run one more sprint.  The goal is to make it around a triangle pattern with the top of the 18, and the two opposite corner flags as the marks.  Everyone runs except the goal keepers whose task is to make sure each player rounds the mark on the outside.   On this January day, Head Boys’ Soccer Coach George Turley has chosen 7 as the number of circuits that must be finished by the entire group in 45 seconds apiece.  Finish and walk away.  Fail and add 3 more.


“Stronger runners help slower runners, pushing everyone to cross together on time,” said Turley.   “We want players who will push through the physical and mental pain to reach the fitness goal as a team and not as an individual”


If the pain of running is not enough motivation to finish on time, the presence of former players in the pack and on the sidelines, acting like coaches, makes for a dose of braggadocio to complete the “Turley Triangle.”  Colin Rice (’10) and the Kelly brothers, Mills (’08), and Bowden (’10) are not afraid to test their fitness with the team, while the other alums prefer to save their game for the scrimmage.


On any given January afternoon during the first week back from break, a dozen or so former players, while still on their college vacation, bring their dreams of the glory days to the pitch to see if they still have it.  During the first week of 2011, Alex Gras (’08), Stuart Dickerson (’10) Robbie Cowell (’10), Ryan Lichtarge (’10), Rob Hamel (’08), Clayton Holz (’08), Walter Schiffer (’07), Frank Mace (’10), Blake Wulfe (’10), Andrew Mintz (’10), Gabe Aguilar (’08), Chas Jhin  (’10), and Mike Loya (’08) have put on their cleats to kick it around with their former team and coaches.


“We participated in all the drills but we did not have to partake in the conditioning,” said Mills Kelly.  “Soccer was one of my best memories of SJS and I enjoy coming back and catching up with Coaches Ritter, Murphy, and Turley.  This has slowly turned into a tradition during the winter break.”


Greg Cook (’06) is also back with the Mavericks, but his stint is not limited to a week in January.  Cook has returned to coach soccer joining alums Sam Chambers (’77), Richie Mercado (’79), Craig Chambers (’81), Jim Murphy (’83), and Marty Thompson (’90).


“After traveling around the world, I decided to come back and give coaching a try,” said Cook, a three year varsity starter at goal keeper and former track and field standout at Rhodes College.  Coach Cook along with Coach Murphy just led the 8th grade to a 2nd consecutive HJPC championship giving Greg a taste of victory and hopefully a desire for more when he assists the middle and high school track program this spring.


The Maverick Girls’ program headed up by Rachel Skinner has their share of returning players on the pitch.  In addition to Jack Daniel (’81), Coach Skinner has two of her former players on her coaching staff.  Jessica Waters played for Coach Skinner at Stephen F. Austin State University, and Ashlee Briggerman was on one of her youth teams.  Now they are coaching together on the Maverick sidelines, and all three suit-up for the U-30 Houston women’s club team.


“When they were players they worked extremely hard,” said Head Varsity Girls’ coach Rachel Skinner.  “Now as coaches, they bring the same passion to help our girls get to the next level.”


Briggerman, a former U of H soccer player and one of the youngest coaches on the staff, connected with Skinner in her early days of the game at age 11 when she played on Skinner’s Austin Thunder club team.  “Her passion for the game and the players has remained the same from when I was a youth player until now, and she can keep up with us on our club team” said Ashley.


“Rachel gave every SFA player equal opportunity to compete and had the confidence in freshmen like me to be on her starting lineup,” said Waters.   “She had high expectations for her players then just as she does now with St. John’s.  She helped build a great program with the Lumberjacks and led us to a conference championship.  I think it has really helped me as a coach to be one of her players, a teammate, and coaching assistant.”


There are times however, when Coach Waters feels like she is still Skinner’s player when Rachel gives the Mavericks a pep talk and when the dreaded star conditioning drill appears on the practice plan.


“It’s like I am back in Nacogdoches and Coach Skinner is encouraging us to finish the circuit,” said Waters.  “My muscles do a double take.”


Whether it is “Turley’s triangle” or “Skinner’s star,” the pattern is clear that players come back to the game to run, play, and coach with the coaches who instilled passion on the pitch.


Sam Chambers- Athletic News


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Coach and Team Define Real Talent

Thank you Alice and Sallie

Good Morning…


Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here today.   Mr. Lombardi and Ms. Beniretto told me I could choose my topic for today.  You can guess, I’ll be talking about the sport of……soccer.


I want to tell you story about Bruce Arena, one of the greatest modern day soccer coaches that most people have heard of, and the one of the best 7th grade St. John’s soccer teams that a few here can still recall.  Believe it or not they both have something in common.  It’s called real talent, or some call it finding a way to get it done.


Since you might have thought this would be a lacrosse story you also might be asking yourself like many people ask me “what do you know about soccer?”


I have been coaching soccer for about 30 years. That doesn’t make me an expert but one thing I do know about soccer is that it is the sport that got me to where I am today. Starting at the Post Oak Y with my nephew’s team to coaching a girls’ high school team in Virginia to a state title, I could not escape soccer.  Because of soccer I quit my day job as a geologist and enrolled at UVA grad school to learn more about coaching, sport psychology and soccer.


SOCCER got me hired at St. John’s.  As a matter of fact when I met my wife for the first time, she was coaching.  What else? Soccer.  And a few years later, under the romantic lights of Lee field, I proposed to her  right after one of my soccer games.  Colt McCoy would have been jealous!


Soccer was also the sport that put me in touch with one of the greatest modern day coaches of the game:  Bruce Arena.  I was a rookie coach at St. Anne Belfield in Charlottesville, and Arena was on the cusp of greatness at the helm of the UVA Mens soccer team in the late 80’s.


Trying to get to the next level in coaching I started to go to his practices and pick up drills and tips from what was at the time, but not forever, one of the best soccer programs in the country.  We ended up being friends and played a lot of hard ball squash together, and I still have scars on my back from some of his shots that did not make it to the wall.  Arena was an all American lacrosse player and all Ivy soccer player at Cornel.  He also played in professional leagues in both sports.  By the time he was done at UVA he had won 5 NCAA championships in soccer (4 in a row from 1991-1994).  He went on to coach the US men’s national team, the MLS DC United champions, the NY Red Bulls, and is the now the coach of the defending MLS champions, LA galaxy.


These are all impressive stats.  But it was the way he got those titles that intrigued me, and that is what real talent is all about.


When Arena first showed up at UVA in the late 70’s he was hired to coach lacrosse and was told to baby sit the men’s soccer team.   According to him “UVA wanted a nice healthy program where the kids had a good time.”—- and they were not very good.

Arena however was raised to believe that if he did a job there was a correct way to do it.  It did not matter if it was making his bed or coaching in the pros.


Without a budget and no coaching reputation, Arena combed the East Coast for players that might have been overlooked by the power houses of college soccer. The kids with great physical skills were taken, so Bruce dug for the less obvious treasures of athletic ability.  He was mining for real talent.


These lower echelon players compensated for their lesser physical talents with their attitude, discipline, desire to improve, will to win, and how well they meshed with their teammates.  LET ME REPEAT THOSE QUALITIES: Discipline, Desire to improve, will to win, & how well they meshed with their teammates.  Bruce Arena was looking for kids that were there on their own initiative. Most of the time there were players who played more than one sport, not necessarily the all state variety.


Arena devised a way to tell the difference between the kids with real talent and those that did not have it. He would watch kids and find out what they were made of on days when things weren’t going well—The players that replaced their stale offense with intense defense made his list.  The players that found themselves up against a good defender and passed instead of taking a shot made the cut.  The players that dove for balls and seemed to be fearless got a second look.  These were traits of real talent and Arena built his program around them.


He saw them in games when they lost badly and watched how they reacted to adversity.  The ones that dropped their shoulders and quit he didn’t take.  The ones who fought to the end found their way to Charlottesville.


Candid conversations with recruits and their families proved valuable as well.  If they were honest about their game—their strengths and their weaknesses, he could work with them.  Those who could not admit any faults in their game were not very coachable and he never saw them again.


Arena’s final rule on real talent was to only keep 1-2 star players on the team no matter what their attitude was.  Beckham and Donovan fit the bill in LA.


In 1998, ten years after I met Arena, I coached the St. John’s 7th grade boys’ soccer team from the class of 2004.  They were a group of guys that fit the profile of real talent, and Arena would surely have taken a second look at them.  It was a blend like many of our teams at St. John’s.  We had a star or two.  Bradley Eiseman and Connor Booth, they were the Joe Faragunas and David Lu’s of the day.   The rest of the gang included fairly coordinated guys.  They were more or less average Joes: Caven, Finnegan, Wilson, Glass, Thomas, Allison, Jewell, Danzinger, Kahle, Sinclair, Brantley, Lukens, Hines, Lake, Shepard, Blanton, Prabhu, Payne, Jennings, Holmes, Blondeau, and our third string goalie Elder.


They called themselves the “freak show.”  Like Arena’s teams of real talent, they found ways to get it done.  We not only won games by big margins, but nobody could score on us.  After we kept recording shut out after shut out, the team started to become aware of how scary good we really were.  We got this idea that no opponent would get a ball in our net.  We played Kinkaid in the ROB tournament and beat them 9-0!  The heads of schools were calling Lombardi, and rightfully so, to make sure we weren’t trying to run up the score.  Everyone was playing, and you can’t tell 7th graders to not shoot on goal.  The last game of the season was at Kinkaid and I thought the last blowout might come back and haunt us.  I sort of felt bad, but not really.  I think the HJPC committee was in the stands to make sure we did not run it up.   We were leading 5-0 in the second half and a light drizzle started to fall on the then grass field.  The shut out streak was in the capable hands of the Joes and Elder, who had never touched the ball as a goalie until we went into stoppage time that night.


I never had much use for stoppage time, but I guess it makes soccer a little more mysterious.  A Kinkaid player broke free and one of our guys slipped in the box and took him down.  Time had already expired and I thought it was over.  It was a shut-out season. Then a penalty kick was awarded to the Falcons.   If you ever saw the movie Hoosiers, it was an Ollie moment.  “It’s your turn, Ollie…”  Only it was Elder.  We were on the cusp of a kind of greatness, like pitching a perfect game in baseball.  The bench players were huddled together.  Some were looking the other way like football players do when a game winning field goal is kicked with time running out on the clock, like in last years Big 12 Championship game which also went into stoppage time.


Kinkaid had one skilled player—not sure how much real talent he had–and he set the ball on the spot.  The ref’s whistle sounded, he struck the ball and Elder dove to get his only touch on a shot all year, and Caven cleared it out.


When final tweet sounded, Elder went up on the team’s shoulders like we had just won the championship of the universe.  52-0 was the final goal count and we did it with real talent.  We had found a way to get something done that even Bruce Arena and his Galaxy would think was out of this world.


So next time you think you’re not the best player on your team, remember, it’s real talent that wins games, not stars.


Thanks again for having me and if you invite me back I will be glad to tell you about the first varsity sport I ever played, …baseball.



Sam Chambers- Athletic News






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Real Talent Takes a Number

Real Talent Takes a Number 


(Taken from Athletic News)

Most sports fans remember the jersey number of their favorite player.  Michael Jordan was #23 for the Chicago Bulls.  Mia Hamm was #9, and everyone in Texas knows at least one of the famous athletes to wear #34: Nolan Ryan of the Astros and Rangers, Hakeem Olajuwon of the Rockets, and Earl Campbell of the Oilers.   The top seller in the nation, #4 is still worn by Brett Farve of the Minnesota Vikings and formerly of the Green Bay Packers, the team on which he cut his cloth.  The top selling collegiate jersey in the Lone Star state still belongs to Vince Young of the Texas Longhorns.

Some St. John’s alumni fortunate enough to sport a NCAA uniform, have fond enough memories of their glory days in high school to wear the same number in college.  Nick Lukens (’02) wore #34 for St. John’s and Georgetown in lacrosse.  Andy Gagel (’06) carried on the tradition of # 34 for the Mavs and the Big Green of Dartmouth College.  M.A. Boles (’10) picked her high school #12 in her first year on the Washington & Lee Women’s Volleyball team.

While Derry Herlihy (’07), Nick Tutcher (’09), Paul Hobby (’78), and his son, Walker (’10) never got their choice of a jersey, they have a common bond underlying the digits on their back—they all walked on NCAA Division I football teams. “My jersey number in college was different from high school.  I was not in a position to bargain,” said Paul.  Walker, following in his dad’s footsteps at UVA, settled for 31, not his “beloved 44 from high school.”  Walker also took a new position at safety.  Herlihy, too, found a new appointment at Notre Dame.   “My number is 27, and I wore 22 for the Mavs.  Of course I would have picked my high school number if I could have, but walk-ons don’t get to choose their numbers,” said Derry.  Tutcher wears 58 for TCU.

Like a Maverick middle-school athlete getting his or her first team jersey, these guys identified themselves by a new number, and moreover, by choosing to belong to something bigger than themselves.

“There were a couple of factors that motivated me to try out for the team.  First and foremost was simply a love to compete in the game of football. I had the time of my life playing for the Mavs – Coaches Gleaves, and Whitmore, and the staff brought a passion for the game that definitely rubbed off on me.  Even just being at practice with my teammates and friends, things that you take for granted, were some of the best times I had at St. Johns,” said #22, a.k.a. Herlihy.  “My fondest memories of St. John’s were helping take my senior lacrosse and football teams farther than most thought possible. Both squads returned only a couple of starters, and both squads consistently outperformed expectations by just going out and playing extremely hard in every game from start to finish.  It is no different here at Notre Dame.  Even against some of the best athletes in the country, I go full speed and don’t question it.  It is a choice—you must fully commit to make it.”

Herlihy, cut by Notre Dame his freshman year and taken back a year later, is listed as a running back in the Irish media guide, and he runs for the scout team.  Each week the scout team dons the jersey of the Irish’s next opponent.  As exciting it was to wear #2 (Herlihy’s lax number) as Michigan State’s Mark Dell, Derry’s goal is to be on the kick off team in his last season for the Irish.

“It is hard to bust your tail every day pretty much all year around knowing that you likely will never see meaningful playing time, but despite all that, there is literally no feeling in the entire world like running out of the tunnel in Notre Dame Stadium with ‘Irish’ on your chest and that shiny gold helmet on your head with 85,000 fans screaming at you. It’s worth every single day to do that just once,” said Derry.

Just before the 105 Notre Dame players, including the 20-odd walk-ons, exit the tunnel onto the field in South Bend, they pass the slogan “PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION TODAY.”  For walk-ons this would be a fantasy, except for another phrase that speaks to their position.  This band of walk-ons clings to the coaching cliche “Next Man In,” reminding every player that there is a guy ready to take your place.   “My job everyday is make the coaching staff upset at the starters, usually by busting the wedge and tagging the return man,” Derry quipped.  “A few walk-ons have turned enough heads to play in games, so we know it can be done.”

As Derry does for the Irish, Walker Hobby suits up for home games for his University of Virginia Cavaliers.  As Mavericks, they both played lacrosse at defensive midfield, a position lacking glory but full of the guts both young men continue to demonstrate.  “The long hours, along with the 6 a.m. workouts we have during the week, have been the toughest parts so far, but the relationships I’ve made and the camaraderie have been worth it.” said Walker.  “My advice to any St. John’s athlete who is considering walking on to a sports team in college is to be ready for serious mental and physical commitment, and then go for it!”

Thirty-three years ago Walker’s dad, Paul Hobby, made a go for it, also at UVA.  “I learned some life lessons.  When they offered me a partial scholarship it meant a lot, because it was a form of success.  Once people have an investment in you they work harder to see you succeed,” said Paul.  “It’s a very basic concept, but people want to affirm their own decisions–and I didn’t know that.  And, yes, it did hurt.  I have nagging injuries from college football to this day, but I would do it again.”

Nick Tutcher is back for more in his second season at TCU.  He suited up for the 2009 #3 ranked Horn Frogs for the Fiesta Bowl in January.  “The atmosphere was electric for the bowl game, but it was not my main motivation to play football,” said Nick.  “When football ended for me at St. John’s I felt like I was just discovering my athletic talents.  My dad played in college and I felt like I need to see if I could do it.”   Three weeks into the 2010 season, with his team ranked 4th in the country, Nick is starting to gets reps on the offense in addition to his scout team duties.  “At first I only wanted to make the team.  Now I want to play,” said Tutcher.

St. John’s athletes have walked on in other sports too.  Richie Mercado (’78) found his way on to the UVA track team, a step which took him into his coaching career.  David Noel (’06) and Matt Carter (’01) made the basketball teams for the Virginia Cavaliers and Vanderbilt Commodores respectively.  Hoping to be the next man in, each of them not only walked on, but earned a number.

Sam Chambers Athletic News

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Real Talent Sticks Together

It’s Monday afternoon, the first of a six-day weekly sequence of running for the 2010 Maverick Girls’ Cross Country team.  They are giddy about the five-mile run as they sit waiting for their coach, Rachel Skinner, to ignite the spark that will get them on their feet. “Skinner” is a word that means “a person who drives draft animals.”  Coach lives up to the name, and also gets the most out of her team by pushing the right buttons at the right time, like another Skinner, the late behavioral psychologist, B. F. Skinner, would do.  Today she has surprised the team by not going with the usual 9 mile run.

Mild Monday turns to torture on Tuesday when the training session begins at 5:40 a.m. at Buffalo Bayou “Boot Camp.”  “Hills” at Eleanor Tinsley Park highlight the Tuesday regimen.  Wednesday afternoon, dubbed by Skinner, “recovery day,” ends not with a treat, but with a seven-minute ice bath to soothe sore muscles.  Thursdays it’s back to 5:40 a.m., this time on the track, for more intervals and sixteen 400 meter repeats.  Friday is easy, according to coach, and Saturday is race day.

The entire team agrees, however: these weekly work outs are easy compared to the pre-season training camp in Colorado.   “The only way these girls can make it is by sticking together,” said Skinner.  “Our pre-season training camp in Colorado provided us with physical and mental challenges that knitted us real tight.”

“Everyone goes through it, and no one is alone,” said Nicole Gras (’11).

“You don’t want to let other people down, because you made the commitment to the team.” said Catherine Sullivan (’13).

“We encourage each other,” said Martha Daniel (’13). “A lot of running is about helping the team out.”

The defining moment for the 2010 team occurred on a mountain training hike in Winter Park, Colorado.  Two miles from the summit of Byers Peak a light rain blanketed the team.  After they all touched the top and took a photo, hail hit and forced the group back to the tree line where they took cover.

“From that point on it was about problem solving,” said Gras.

Coach Jensen (Bridget) (’81) told us to stay together and fortunately we had two things going for us, said Daniel.  “Jessica Van Sweringen (’11), using her mountaineering skills, helped us navigate further down, and then a miracle happened.  Carson Gibson’s (’12) i Phone powered up with 3 bars and we were able to use a map app to get to the road.

“We’d been hiking and running each day and were getting exhausted, and for some reason, getting totally lost made us relax and laugh,” said Anne Johnson (’11). “I think the experience shows that we’re a team that rolls with the punches, has a great sense of humor and optimism, and isn’t afraid of forging forward, even when the unknown looms ahead.”

“Nothing can compare to Colorado,” said Megan Lillie (’12).

“Everything else is easier.  ‘It’s The Climb,’” quipped Sullivan.

Race day, however, is not as easy as last year.  Instead of the 2 mile length, the girls are running 3 miles, just like the boys.  “It has been a challenge to acclimate to the extra mile,” said Skinner.  “We are working with our middle school runners now to get them primed for next year.  The biggest hurdle is finding competition with SPC schools before we see them at the finals.  This weekend at South Zone in Austin will give us a sample of what to expect in early November.”

The Mavericks are taking no chances as they try to repeat as SPC champs in Dallas two weeks from Friday.  Skinner has scheduled multiple meets with some of the best 5A schools in the state and country.  At the McNeil Invitational race earlier in the month, St. John’s finished in the middle of the pack of the big leagues.  They beat out Austin Westlake among other large public school teams.

Using technology of her own, coach also gathers the times of runners the team has not seen and creates a virtual race to plan a strategy of attack.  “After this weekend, this is it.  The last two weeks are about refining and tapering,” said Skinner.

From mountains and hail in Colorado to hills and ice in Houston, this pack will be ready to turn it on when Coach Skinner pushes the switch to the point of no return.  And when they do, they’ll have more than three bars to power them to the finish line.

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Real Talent Returns Again- Not Without Osburn

The first headmaster of St. John’s School, Alan Lake Chidsey, made some big hires, but only one of his troops had made it to the college world series. To top that off, this guy had been part of a professional sports franchise. To this day, only one other faculty member has had similar credentials, playing in MLB and the CWS. Charles Williams was hired by John Allman in 2007, nearly 50 years after Chidsey’s man, Doug Osburn, set foot on campus.

Fresh from the 1954 World Series with the Houston Cougars, Osburn did double-duty, serving as St. John’s coach in fall and winter and playing professional baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies organization during the spring. Doug jumped into the football coaching ranks right away along with head coach and athletic director, Phil Richards. Richards, the girls’ basketball coach at the time, ended up leaving St. John’s a year later to become a headmaster. Osburn filled the gap and got his first chance to be a head varsity coach in his second year.

“After Phil left, Mr. Chidsey called me in to his office and appointed me A.D. and girls’ basketball coach. I had never been a head coach before,” said Doug. “I stood outside the old gym for about a half hour staring into the seam of the door. I was scared to death. I had been a professional baseball player and had gone to the college world series, but I just didn’t know what to do.”

Eighteen years later, Osburn walked out of that gym with 16 SPC titles to his name—all in girls’ 6 v 6 basketball.

“We had so much fun winning,” said Coach Osburn. “Everyone was gunning for us. We were 10 pt. favorites when we walked into the gym. I never coached 5 v 5 girls’ basketball. It was 6 v 6 (3 on 3 at each end). We started with a zone defense and then added some more complicated schemes. Whatever the formation and game plan, we never got tired of winning.”
“I’m shocked to go back and figure out that Coach Osburn only coached me for one season,” said Deborah Detering (’59). “I recall vividly that when he drew up a plan we would bust our necks to do it. It wasn’t about the x’s and o’s. We all had a crush on the young man.”

“Osburn meant the world to many of us,” said Binky Peters Strom (’59).

“He was special,” added Marcia Heyne Modesett (’59).

“Our nickname for Doug was DEO–the initials of his full name and a not so subtle reference to deity, said Marina Ballantyne Walne (’70). “We revered him and his ability to turn any ragtag group of girls into a cohesive championship team.”

Another of Osburn’s major contributions to St. John’s was hiring Skip Lee away from Kinkaid in 1958. Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Skip and Doug were inseparable and helped St. John’s become a force to be reckoned with on the gridiron, winning six SPC titles together. Doug coached the defense and Skip coached the offense.

While Doug found new ways of winning titles in girls’ basketball at St. John’s, his passion for baseball never waned. In 1962 Rice came calling to head up their baseball team. Osburn would not give up his beloved girls’ basketball team, nor his defensive unit in football, but he agreed to spend his springs on the diamond with the Owls. In 1974 he went full-time with Rice, becoming their first Women’s Athletic Director, while also serving as Club Sports Director, Facilities Coordinator, and head coach of baseball and women’s volleyball and basketball.

Doug left a lasting impression on those that he coached. Titles aside, what many former football players recall is Osburn’s tell-tale tactic to keep his troops on edge: he would sneak up and give them the “Pincho,” or worse, the “Pincho Grande.”

“You had to beware, but he was so stealthy he would be pinching you before you knew it,” said Tommy Smith (’75), a.k.a. “Booger Red,” as Osburn called him.

“You never knew he was coming until it was too late,” said Rand Holstead (’86). If you have ever slammed your fingers in a car door that locked, you would know the feeling.”

In 1966 Doug became a founding member and eventual Hall of Fame inductee in the Karl Young Baseball league, a league which gave college-level baseball players an opportunity to sharpen their game in a competitive environment. Phil “Scrap Iron” Garner, Doug Drabek, and Craig Reynolds among others, cut their teeth on the diamonds at Karl Young.

In the summer of 1980, while driving out to Brenham on a Saturday to scout players, Doug decided to swing by the St. John’s gym and check in on Nance Osburn, his beloved wife and long time math teacher at 2401 Claremont Lane. Tom Reed, the school’s third headmaster, was in the gym parking lot and asked him what it would take to for Doug to come back. “An arm and a leg,” said Doug. “I thought he was kidding.”

Answering the call of the storied cloisters one more time, Doug took Reed up on his offer on Monday. He went back to coaching the defense with Skip on the varsity football team and finally got a taste of 5 on 5 basketball as the boys’ head coach. Always finding a way to put baseball in his life, along with Don Lewis, he resurrected the baseball program which he started in his first go-around at St. John’s.

Twenty years later Coach Osburn left St. John’s for the second time. Both times he had answered the call of duty: Not Without Honor. He has left a legacy of lasting impressions. The St. John’s athletic department bears his mark, and will always be: Not Without Osburn.
Sam Chambers- Athletic News

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Real Talent Shines in Scarlet and Black

For St. John’s Girls’ Varsity Co-captain, Angela Ha (’11), one day can make all of the difference. In 2007 she went back to school for a day that would eventually shape her into the leader she is now. After finishing three wonderful years at St. John’s Georges’ Middle School, on a hot Texas day in August, Ha began her freshman year with some trepidation. Although she had made the varsity volleyball team during the summer tryouts, it was not at St. John’s. While most of her classmates had just made a Texas two-step underneath Westheimer Road to get to upper school, Angela found herself on top of the Balcones Escarpment 195 miles west of Houston at San Antonio’s St. Marys Hall.

Ha’s family had moved to San Antonio after her 8th grade year at St. John’s. She was no longer a Maverick but a Baron from “The Hall.” On that day, as her colors went from scarlet to purple, she felt as removed from Houston as the millions of years of geologic time which divide the Cretaceous Hill Country from the Quaternary Coastal Plain.

But Angela was not a fossil and she did not want to be trapped in the limestone of west Texas. After the last bell, she called her parents and Mrs. Simms of the admission office. One day later she was reenrolled as a Maverick.

“There were many things pulling me back to Houston–My brother Peter (’06) had just graduated from St. John’s, and the Maverick volleyball and softball programs were part of my athletic dreams at that point,” said Ha. “It was nothing to do with the people of St. Mary’s Hall. In fact I am still friends with several players on their volleyball team.”

Ha made it back to Houston as quickly as she moves around the court and bases. Fortunately for the Ha family they had not sold their home and were able to pick up roughly where they left off. “I still had my desk in my room,” said Angela.

In her second tryout for her second team in two weeks, Ha made the cut again: this time for the Mavs. Three years later and not looking back, Angela has made the most of wearing scarlet and black and is starring in her athletic dream as a two-sport athlete at St. John’s. In her junior year she co-captained the 2010 Varsity softball team to a SPC championship final and its best record in years. She was also on last season’s 2009 SPC championship volleyball team, and now she’s a 2010 co-captain, along with Alex Beckham (’11). Angela literally defines herself on the court by her school colors. Playing the libero position, she wears the only scarlet-colored jersey, while her teammates are in black. She substitutes freely for any player and, according to Head Coach James Fuller, is the “air traffic controller for the team.”

Ha’s vantage point, from the side of the court, allows her to direct her teammates to the trajectory of the opponents’ shots. Along with Coach Fuller, she all at once reads the tendencies of other team’s hitters, identifies the biggest threat, and tells her teammates what to do.

“Up, free ball, base, line, cross, tip, A, left, right,” Ha calls out confidently while looking for holes on the other side of net where the team could place a winner or set it up.

“Angela is a good communicator on the court,” said outside hitter, Stephanie Guo (’13). “She supports us during the play and afterwards when we make mistakes. She keeps us focused and ready for what is next.”

“Angela has a great work ethic and that is part of her success story,” said Head Softball Coach, Dan Muschalik. “She’s a positive leader and doesn’t put anyone down.”

“She’s also a very good athlete,” added right-side hitter, Anna Cain (’13).

In a rare home game early on in the season, The Mavericks are hosting Houston Christian on Liu Court. Even though this match is a non-counter, Ha is using the opportunity to lead by example and set the tone for the season. Battling a cold, she strives to find the tempo and timing of the team. The Mustangs’ next shot hits an open space beyond the reach of her teammates Jane (’12) and Caroline (’13), also known as the “great wall of Labanowski.” Without a hint of disappointment Ha calls out, “push five” and gets everyone ready to negotiate the next point. “I want everyone to get on board with our team goals and keep improving,” said Angela. “We have new players, and I need to be patient.”

The Mavericks defeated the Mustangs in what would be their twelfth match in 23 days. They’re putting their formula to the test in order to get ready for the upcoming conference games, one of which will take place on September 25th, where Angela spent her first day of high school. This time Angela will be wearing scarlet and won’t be changing colors.

So, however your day happens to be going at SJS, remember that not only could this be the day that changes your life, but also, there might be somebody out there who’d fight to be in your jersey.

Sam Chambers – Athletic News

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A Picture of Real Talent

A Picture of Real Talent

Eating your greens is standard advice around a dining room table. For Eric Lombardi, recently retired Boys’ Varsity Volleyball Head Coach, it was a mandatory mantra growing up in a household of five in Dallas, Texas. Not only did Eric eat his greens, but green also became a symbolic color for him. He drives a forest green Honda, and he graduated from a college whose nickname is “The Big Green.”

While at The Big Green, better known as Dartmouth College, Lombardi fell in love with the sport of volleyball after learning the game in high school at St. Mark’s. He played for the Dartmouth men’s club team and was an assistant coach for the women’s team, his first stint in the coaching ranks twenty-eight years ago.

Lombardi honed his passion for the sport while teaching and coaching the girls and boys teams at the Casady School of Oklahoma City. Casady soon became a contender in the SPC ranks under Lombardi’s tutelage, winning titles in 1987, 1988, and 1989 over none other than St. John’s, coached by Nick Rivera, the founder of the SJS boys’ program. “I especially liked coaching volleyball in Oklahoma,” Lombardi says. “I was able to provide an opportunity for boys who were not interested in football to play a sport that they would not normally play unless they were from California.” Lombardi spent his next five years in California teaching and coaching at Head-Royce School in Oakland soaking in the volleyball vibe that rules as mighty as football in the Lone Star state.

Lombardi finally rode the west coast wave back to Texas, coming to St. John’s in 1996 to eventually take the reins of the middle school from Pat Adams and those of the men’s volleyball program from Mark Reed. While St. John’s has not yet won a SPC Championship, Lombardi took the Mavericks to the Championship game in 2009, his last season. They fell to his alma mater–a hot St. Mark’s team–but Coach Lombardi reveals his winning mettle when he speaks about the team his Mavericks defeated to reach the finals, the legendary Greenhill Hornets.

The Hornets sport Lombardi’s green color, and there was a time when they made him green with envy. Since the mid eighties, most of the teams in the league– including St. John’s –were filter feeders compared to Dallas’ Greenhill. The Hornets won eleven SPC championships from 1985 through 2008. Any team stepping on the court with the Hornets was defeated before they began to play. This fatalistic attitude was the norm for the St. John’s Rebels and Mavericks until Lombardi’s greatest victory four years ago. For SPC volleyball teams, second place was considered a great season—but not by Eric Lombardi, raised to eat his spinach and hate losing to the Hornets.

One of the traits of real talent is persistence: if you do something long enough, you will succeed. Lombardi lost his share of matches to Greenhill in his early days at St. John’s. Nevertheless, as he had at Casady, he patiently built the program. “I worked hard to create a passion for the sport and to push athletes to meet and hopefully exceed their potential, and moreover, to end the Greenhill drought,” explains Lombardi.

Four years ago St. John’s faced the Hornets in the third place SPC game after losing a disappointing match to Casady in the semi-finals. Lombardi’s Mavs were the SPC South # 1 seed, and needed to come back to H-Town with something to show even if they wouldn’t be the champions. As fate would have it, a win over Greenhill–in one coach’s mind, at least– would suffice. Greenhill not only had the mystique of a champion, but they usually hosted the tournament, putting the visitors–especially from Houston– at a disadvantage. The Mavericks, down early, rallied to win. They rolled back to the Gulf coast without the trophy, but with a bigger swagger in their step. Most importantly to Lombardi, they had started to crack the great green wall.

The 2009 Volleyball season evidenced the powerful tide that Lombardi built in his 25 years of coaching. His wave crested at just the right time, in a nail-biting finish at the SPC Championship. The Mavericks had lost only one regular season match– to none other than Greenhill, who now faced them in the semi-finals. The scenario was very similar to the 2005 epic victory that put a chink in the Hornet’s armor. The game was at Greenhill and the host team was the defending champion. “Lombardi always had a different look on his face when we faced Greenhill,” said co-captain Richard Johnson (’10). “In the 2009 semi-final game it was a look of intensity until the last point, and then there was a smile from Coach I will never forget as the Greenhill’s coaches’ clipboard shattered into pieces after we fought off three championships points in game four and won game five.”

That wall has now crumbled. Greenhill is no longer unbeatable– in Lombardi’s mind or, more importantly, in the minds of the 2010 Mavericks. “Coach Lombardi did so much for the program, and he got us ready to take our game to the next level,” said co-captain Max Lee (’10).

“I can think of a million reasons to keep coaching. It is very difficult for me to step aside, but the program is in very good hands with Rob Amason, who not only knows volleyball but relates to the players very well,” said Lombardi. “I had been looking for the next generation to take over and lead the program to bigger and better things…Rob was perfect . .. very popular with the kids, exceedingly well-versed in the sport, and hooked by the SJS ethos in his one season coaching with me. I am thrilled for SJS boys’ volleyball to be in his hands and to move on to a Banner Year!”

Coach Amason has taken the bull by the horns, starting with a demanding pre-season regimen that included two three-hour sessions every day for the first week, culminating with mandatory ice baths after grueling track work-outs. The second week was geared towards ball control and player mentoring from the prospective varsity athletes. “I think it is important for these guys to invest back into the program that will carry on the tradition of excellence built by Coach Lombardi. It also helps when the younger guys are able to approach a more seasoned player with questions, and it allows the prospective varsity players to hone their leadership traits,” says Amason. “It’s an important part of building a program and developing successful young adults.”

Lombardi will continue to enjoy the rewards of the work he put into the St. John’s volleyball program, both as a fan and when he returns home from a satisfying day as Middle School Head. As he reaches inside his fridge for something cold and green–something his mom would have served him for dinner–he’ll see the one photo he keeps on the door: It’s a picture of him with his Mavericks, taken just after their first victory over Greenhill, a picture of real talent.

Sam Chambers- St. John’s School Athletic News

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