SLIAC; Looking Back is a weekly interview series each Thursday this summer with former players and coaches who made an impact during their time in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC). We hope you enjoy a look back through time and how the SLIAC played a role in who they are today. Today we speak with former Principia College student-athlete and current coach Nicole Gervais (Class of 2001).
This fall Nicole Gervais will begin her second season on the coaching staff of her alma mater, Principia College, marking a second stint on the sidelines as a coach after a stellar playing career for the Panthers. Gervais remains the only three-time SLIAC Player of the Year winner and is Principia's all-time leader in points (224), goals (85), and assists (54). As a senior Gervais was third in NCAA Division III with 26 goals and 19 assists. Gervais currently serves as the Deputy Director of Soccer for both the men's and women's programs at Principia College.
You had unprecedented success on the field during your career at Principia (the only three-time Player of Year in SLIAC history). What do you attribute your success on the field to?
"I attribute it to my coach and a great set of teammates. Plus the fact that i loved playing there for my team. When you love something, it comes out in a successful way I've noticed."
What memories do you hold most fondly looking back at your time in Elsah?
"Soccer memories, almost entirely. Road trips, Europe, pasta dinners, indoor soccer, early morning runs... My best friends were soccer people so that made it convenient. Even my college boyfriend came to almost every game (even away ones) which was awesome to have that support. My favorite season was actually the year I got injured. I spent the season taking pictures, videotaping, and learning I loved coaching. It was awesome."
You took over a program at Whittier College that was struggling and led them to their most wins in nearly a decade. What does it take to build a strong, competitive program?
"It has always been about getting kids in who want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Sometimes this means come in and lead from the beginning, other times it means come in and contribute in other ways. This however, requires a great level of maturity from the players. Division III is different from anything they've known before for almost ever player. It's amazing but it takes a lot of ownership for the players and figuring out how to create a culture that understands that, that breeds that, is crucial. And when it happens, it's awesome to behold."
After being away from the conference for a few years, is there anything you have noticed since returning to be a part of the Principia coaching staff?
"It feels like a lifetime ago, it seems unfathomable that I'm almost 20 years out of high school. But more schools. Still not enough women coaching (when I was at Whittier we had only 2 men coaching in the conference). Having said that, I didn't feel slighted at all when standing on the men's sideline this past year. The same schools seem to be roughly at the top on the women's side while the men have parity every week."
What do you feel is the most important take away from playing collegiate sports?
"Well, if we're (coaches) doing our jobs right, the kids should be learning good, quality character education. Sports are, in my humble opinion, the best vehicle for learning how to be an asset in society. How to be part of a world bigger than themselves and how to make it a better place. Getting to teach/learn that while playing soccer/being on a college team - nothing better in my book."
Times have changed since you played, what are some differences you see that student-athletes today face (both pros and cons)?
"Being a fall sport college freshman is great for getting settled and feeling comfortable as you first leave home. With preseason, even before school starts you end up with mentors and friends from the get-go. It used to be that student-athletes did better in school in season because of the need to have better time-management. I don't know if that is the case anymore, but it was always a recruiting argument for me to parents concerned about their kid's time. On the women's side, more and more girls are playing soccer. But the burnout rate is also getting higher as youth are focusing more. I think I was a better athlete and teammate because I played all the sports growing up, even ones I wasn't all that good at. Life for these kids now is just so different! Technology, everything at their fingertips. Learning to truly work for something is a lesson I think many student-athletes are getting to learn."