Elmira weathers turmoil, ready to challenge for national title

Meghan Fonfara of Elmira (Elmira Athletics)
Meghan Fonfara of Elmira (Elmira Athletics)

Last week, the Elmira Soaring Eagles tied Plattsburgh for the top place in the polls. It was the first time someone other than the Cardinals held the No. 1 spot since Elmira themselves were first on March 2, 2015. It was a 25-week reign for Plattsburgh.

It was an accomplishment to be proud of for the Soaring Eagles, but it’s all the more impressive for the way the season has started for Elmira. Dean Jackson, who was the coach from 2012 through the end of last season and led Elmira to the national championship in 2013, left Elmira to take the top assistant’s job with the Penn State women’s program in Division I.

Less than a month after announcing Jackson’s retirement, the college announced that Kelsea Martalock would promoted from assistant into the head coaching role. By November 14, it had been announced that Martalock had left the program and men’s assistant coach — and women’s golf coach — Tim Crowley was named interim head coach.

Don Sherman, director of sports information at Elmira said, “Since this is a personnel matter, we are unable to discuss details on the situation. Coach Crowley has been named the interim coach and we are excited to see what he is able to accomplish with this team.”

Crowley himself was unwilling to speak on the subject, saying he and the team were just ready to look ahead.

Nevertheless, Elmira is a top-ranked team and one of the few that could threaten the current Plattsburgh dynasty. The Soaring Eagles have just five seniors on the current squad. While that has to give fans something to hope for in the future, it’s a little concerning in terms of the maturity and discipline they’ll need to be prepared and relevant in the midst of so much turmoil.

For Crowley, he has to not only make the transition from the men’s game to the women’s game, but he has to find a way to earn the trust of the players and keep them on track through an important part of their schedule.

He credits Jackson and Greg Fargo, the coach that preceded Jackson, for creating a culture of pride and winning at Elmira. Crowley said that’s helped hold the team together, given them a common goal, and allowed him to come in to a very strong situation.

“We’re just moving forward and taking it day-by-day,” said Crowley. “The program itself is traditionally really strong and we take a lot of pride in that. We have a great group and they’ve been very supportive of the transition.”

Additionally, he credits the team’s captain for providing stability and leadership

With just 25 games on the roster and a month already off the calendar, Crowley said the team is focusing on each game and each day as they come and trying to not look too far ahead of themselves. While expectations haven’t changed, regardless of what’s happening off the ice, a conference win or a tournament berth are the ultimate goals for the Soaring Eagles.

Despite the relatively young age of his players, Crowley said he already sees the depth of their lines and the impact that depth can have in results.

“If you look at our roster top to bottom, it’s tough to single out one player; we’re pretty strong,” he said. “(We’re) continuing the tradition and history of being a really strong and elite program.”

Thus far, Soaring Eagles’ players have managed to put the off-ice distractions behind them and open the season 6-0. They needed overtime to defeat Buffalo State last weekend, despite outshooting them 32-19. That they won the close game speaks to their tenacity, but it could be argued that a team as talented as Elmira shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place.

They’re facing a big test this week as they will host Norwich, but Crowley believes his players have the mental fortitude to not only get the win, but not get distracted by things they can’t control.

“Expectations for us haven’t changed from year’s past; hopefully at the end of the year, you’ve accomplished your goals,” said Crowley.

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