LMO's Jac Coyne is in Santa Barbara, Calif., covering the Santa Barbara Shootout, a premier WDIA event. Click here for his live blog.
The Michigan Two-Step
by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff
|Jen Dunbar has won the last two Michigan State High
School championships as the coach of the Birmingham Seaholm
girl's program. This year she hopes to double the pleasure by
winning a WDIA national title while also adding a third prep
© Dirk Dewachter
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. --
Jen Dunbar says it takes about an hour to drive from Birmingham,
Mich., a suburb north of Detroit, to Ann Arbor, the home of the
University of Michigan. If there's one person who should know, it's
She drives it every night from January through May as she commutes between her two jobs.
Dunbar starts out at Birmingham Seaholm High School, where she has coached the girls' lacrosse team for the past seven years and won the past two Michigan state championships. Her work ends at UM, where Dunbar is the women's lacrosse coach trying to lift the Wolverines to the top of the WDIA heap.
"It's long days," said Dunbar.
The ability to coach both the top high school team in the state and one of the top college club teams in the country would seem like an impossibility. There can't be enough time to massage the daily practice schedules along with resolving the game commitments - Birmingham Seaholm plays 18 regular season games, Michigan about 15 - in locations 44 miles apart, right?
"It's worked out well," countered Dunbar. "We have practice from 10 p.m. until midnight at UM and we have practice from 6 to 8 p.m. at the high school. It's an hour drive to Ann Arbor. And I set up the game schedules, so I'm able to manipulate things."
This year, the drives won't be so lonely, as Dunbar has convinced her assistants at Birmingham Seaholm, Ginny Hughes and Kasey Hughes, to make the trip with her. The Hughes duo couldn't make the commute fit their work schedules last year, but this spring the entire group is back together...all day.
"We make a great team," said Dunbar. "We're just three co-coaches who work well together. We've been doing it for seven years now."
Coaching Michigan was never something Dunbar and her staff had set out to do.
Under the direction of Mary Ann Meltzer and her assistant, John Sung, Michigan emerged as a WDIA power, but at the conclusion of the 2007 season, Meltzer took the head job at Detroit Mercy and Sung was hired as the coach of the start-up varsity program at Adrian. With the prospect of starting last year's fall ball season without a coach, Dunbar received the call. "I just kind of stepped in," she said.
The difficulty of flipping the switch between teaching high school and college players would seem to be one of the biggest obstacles, but Emmy Scheidt, Michigan's freshman goalie, doesn't believe it's an issue for Dunbar or the two Hughes.
And Scheidt should know.
As the starting goalie on the Birmingham Seaholm team that won the last two state titles, Scheidt has seen Dunbar and her staff at both levels. While there are some subtle differences, the coaching and motivational tac tics remain constant.
"I think they understand there is a lot more maturity on this team," said Scheidt, whose high school classmate, Quinn Golinske, is also a starter for the Wolverines. "Some of the girls are 21 or 22 years old, so it's not like coaching 15-year-olds. It's just how they deal with us; it's more like [adults].
"Jen usually has something - I won't call it a speech - before every game. She said a little something today and I would not have been surprised if she had said it at Birmingham."
Players, regardless of the level, have to feel comfortable playing for their coaches. The fact that Dunbar and her assistants are straddling the prep and collegiate game might raise concerns for some. Scheidt, however, didn't have any trepidation.
In fact, it was just the opposite.
"I don't even know if I would have played in college if it weren't for them," she said. "I love lacrosse and loved playing it in high school. Having Jen, Ginny and Kasey here kind of sealed the deal."