The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News


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Panther athletes reflect on coaches for National Coaches Day

October 6 is National Coaches Day.

The News asked some Panther student athletes how their coaching staffs made an impact on them throughout their time at Eastern.

From the football team, redshirt junior tight end Anthony Manaves thinks the tight ends coach, Jordan Walsh, has impacted him throughout his time playing for the Panthers.

“My position coach has helped keep us on the right track,” Manaves said. “He always makes sure we have our heads on straight and are focused on the big picture.”

Redshirt junior defensive lineman Joel Barrows says the strength and conditioning staff played a role in making him the player he is now.

“The strength and conditioning staff, led by coach [Derek] Stein, has been great to work with,” Barrows said. “They play a huge role in allowing me to play my best on game day.”

Senior offensive lineman Chad Strickland believes Head Coach Chris Wilkerson makes the team want to play harder and buy into the program. (File)

Senior offensive lineman Chad Strickland said Head Coach Chris Wilkerson has supported the team since Wilkerson started the head coaching position in January 2022.

“He knows how to get the most out of us,” Strickland said. “We know that he is for us and for EIU. He makes all of us play harder and buy into the program. He doesn’t only want us to be great football players, but great men as well.”

From the men’s soccer team, freshman defender Jake McConnery feels the impact from Head Coach Josh Oakley and Assistant Coach Chris DeVito.

Josh Oakley is in his second season as the head coach of the men’s soccer team. (File)

“Every day in training and film they’ve done a great job of pushing me to improve but at the same time instilling confidence in me,” McConnery said. “Being a freshman and this is my first season in college soccer they’ve done a great job of helping me to transition and I think it’s paying off well as I’ve played every minute so far this season.”

Junior goalkeeper Whelan Joseph credits the staff with helping him throughout the season.

“Coming into the season on an injury wasn’t the best, but what pushed me the most is the trust in my ability that I get from the staff,” Joseph said.

Fifth-year defender PJ Allen says the coaching staff has helped him not just physically but mentally.

“The coaching staff has impacted my life by treating me as a person and not just an athlete,” Allen said. “They check in and make sure that I am doing well mentally and and not just physically. They give me different perspective on things when they aren’t going well for me and help me through them.”

From the women’s soccer team, freshman goalkeeper Ella Kratochvil says the coaching staff made out of Head Coach Dirk Bennett, Assistant Coach Deanna Hecht and Assistant Coach Kayla Baird says the staff have helped Kratochvil’s confidence.

“They have been so supportive with me through the entire season so far,” Kratochvil said. “They are all always looking out for my best interest and they’ve given me the confidence to be able to perform at a high level. They all are always working to not only improve my play but everyone else’s around me as well. They believe in me, and honestly that’s what I needed when I came into this first season here. They are very understanding with everything and are here for me no matter what.”

Sophomore defender Kya Trejo says the coaching staff have impacted the team through the chemistry that has been build this season.

Dirk Bennett is in his first year as the head coach for the Panthers’ women’s soccer team. (File)

“The chemistry in general is much better compared to last year, and I think that’s because the coaches actively make an effort to have a good relationship with all of us,” Trejo said. “They also push us when we need it, they make sure we’re focused, competitive, and respectful. So I feel that they’ve laid out stronger groundwork which has helped. Having a better relationship has made it easier to feel comfortable asking questions, making mistakes, holding ourselves accountable, et cetera, which makes us better players, teammates and just people in general.”

From the volleyball team, junior outside hitter Kaitlyn Flynn says the coaching staff made of Head Coach Sara Thomas, Associate Head Coach Cole Aiazzi and Performance Analyst Ignacio “Nacho” Valdemoros work well together and help the team play at a high level.

“They always have the teams best interest at mind, and they push us to be the best version of ourselves everyday,” Flynn said. “Cole has been a really great addition this season. He has a lot of knowledge about volleyball and has helped me to learn new things that can help me and the team.”

Junior outside hitter Kaitlyn Flynn believes Associate Head Volleyball Coach Cole Aiazzi is a “great addition” to the team this season. (File)

Senior defensive specialist/libero Christina Martinez Mundo thinks all three coaches bring their own strengths for the team.

“They all have impacted the season in different ways,” Martinez Mundo said. “Nacho makes sure we are living up to our benchmarks, Cole keeps implementing defensive strategies that will put us in good situations, and Sara {encourages] us to be present to give every game our 100 percent. They are doing and excellent job and I can’t wait to see how else they impact our season.”

Senior middle blocker Emily Wilcox says the coaches have made an impact on the teams’ successes throughout the season.

“They always motivate me to be my best self, keep us in the moment thinking of one day and one practice and one game at a time, and the coaches have completely impacted our best win record in program history,” Wilcox said.

From the cross country team, sophomore runners Michael Atkins and Aidan Gonzalez both consider Head Coach Erin Howarth as the most positive person they know.

Sophomore runners Michael Atkins and Aidan Gonzalez think Cross Country Head Coach Erin Howarth (right) is one of the most positive coaches they’ve ever had. (File)

“Everyday she comes to practice with a smile and good attitude and she really believes in all of us that we can be the best runners we strive to be,” Atkins said. “She has impacted me by allowing me to believe in myself and giving me the tips to race to my full potential. Her training is calculated and we do everything with a purpose so that by the time championship season rolls around, we’re all fit and strong enough to finish races faster and in lower places.”

“I had a rough start to this season and had some doubts about my abilities,” Gonzalez said. “She was always the one to tell me to trust the process, trust my teammates and myself. The knowledge she has for the sport is really inspiring and makes you want to go all in for this team. She gives her all to us, and it makes us want to do the same for each other which really contributes to our success.”

Sophomore runner Kathryn Cichon says Howarth has helped her with her mental health.

“She’s definitely helped when it comes to all the mental struggles that come along with running,” Cichon said. “She’s also helped with just bringing up the team and making sure that everyone has a sense of belonging.”

Senior runner Alex Gomez says Howarth’s support is an aspect that she likes about her head coach.

“Coach Howarth does a great job at helping her runners both within running and outside of it,” Gomez said. “This has impacted my season competing because it allows me to run well knowing I have her continuous support, so I have been able to have a great season so far.”

From the women’s basketball team, junior forward Taris Thornton says the coaching staff led by Head Coach Matt Bollant impacted her by helping her with her strengths and weaknesses on the court.

Head Coach, Matt Bollant along with his coaching staff have helped junior forward Taris Thornton by making her tougher. (File)

“I would say the coaching staff impacted me throughout to season by making me tougher, and I feel like they have developed me into an amazing player and helped me realize my strengths on the court,” Thornton said.

From the men’s basketball team, fifth-year guard Caleb Donaldson says the coaching staff lead by Head Coach Marty Simmons helped him learn new ideologies for the upcoming season.

“It’s been good to learn from new faces and learn different ideologies,” Donaldson said. “Especially being able to build some relationships of the court as well. Obviously the goal is to win, and I think all the staff has that on their minds.”

Sophomore forward Sincere Malone credits the assistant coaches because of their new approach for the upcoming season.

“Our assistant coaches are more hands on this year, meaning like they are all willing to go the extra step and help you reach whatever goal that you inspire to reach,” Malone said. “For instance, if you text them throughout the day and ask them for extra work they will just say ‘meet me on the court,’ and that helped me a lot because they are there to push me whether its on or off the court, they hold each and every one of us to a high standard and they aren’t willing to lower that standard.”

Junior guard Jaylin Gibson transferred to Eastern this semester. Although Gibson started training with the team during the summer, he already feels an impact from the coaching staff within the past couple of months.

EIU Men’s Basketball Coach Marty Simmons is in his third year as the head coach for the Panthers’ men’s basketball team. (File)

“They have kept me on my toes,” Gibson said. “[They make] sure I am going hard just like it’s a game, no shortcuts. I think that has been the most impactful for me so far. I know I’ll be pushed everyday.”

Zaria Flippin can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Zaria Flippin
Zaria Flippin, Sports Editor
Zaria Flippin is a junior sports media relations major. This is her first year at The News.
Han Byer
Han Byer, Photographer
Han Byer is a senior sociology major and she can be reached at 581-2912 or at [email protected].
Rob Le Cates
Rob Le Cates, Editor-in-Chief
Rob Le Cates is a junior journalism major. He previously served as summer editor-in-chief, photo editor and assistant photo editor at The News.

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