By Devon Jeffreys
When the Lady Saints left the court after a stunning 59-58 loss to Webber International in the conference tournament, changes were on the agenda. Just how big those changes would be was not a certainty.
Then in March came word that coach Craig Douglass was leaving the team after two years as coach. The Lady Saints were 23-34 under Douglass under performing at times and not being able to put all their talent together.
Enter new coach Sherri Abbey Nowatzki, formerly of Army. Abbey-Nowatzki takes on a team that is in flux. The roster has had talent for a few years now but not the right mix of players to go to the next level. That all may change under Abbey- Nowatzki.
While at Army, Abbey-Nowatzki took over a team that was just 8-45 in the two years before she took over and managed to turn it into 19-10 team in just her third year there.
Abbey-Nowatzki’s 90-111 overall record at Army in her seven years there doesn’t do justice to the type of changes she made to the program. She left Army as coach in 2005, but Army went to the NCAA Tournament the following year with a team that was largely put together by Abbey-Nowatzki.
Now Abbey-Nowatzki takes on another large task: turning around a Flagler women’s program that hasn’t had a winning season in five years.
“It’s a work in progress,” she said. “We’re starting from ground zero. It’s going to take some time laying the foundation.”
Abbey-Nowatzki said that after she left Army she wasn’t really sure if she wanted to come back to coaching at all. She took a year off to evaluate herself personally and professionally and also spent some time at Tennessee with their head women’s coach Pat Summitt — the winningest coach in NCAA history with 913 career wins and six NCAA championships. Abbey-Nowatzki said the time off helped her evaluate things.
“College coaching is very selfless,” she said. “It’s 7 days a week and 24 hours a day. You’re giving up a lot.”
Despite the sacrifices Abbey-Nowatzki decided to come back to coaching and was approached by a number of teams, finally deciding on Flagler.
“At this stage of my career this is a good fit for me,” she said. “[Flagler] has good student athletes and a lot of excitement, especially with the move to NCAA Div. II.”
At this point Abbey-Nowatzki isn’t quite sure of what to expect on the court and she knows she will get a better feel once practice begins, however, she would like to see her team attain goals off the court as well. She said she has an expectation of a 100 percent graduation rate and a positive experience for her team, and would also like to get the program a better reputation in the community.
Although she did meet with her players briefly after she was hired, Abbey-Nowatzki won’t know exactly what she has until Oct. 15. That is when, under new NCAA guidelines, winter sports teams can begin practice. She did not waste any time, however, getting back to work as she has already inked six recruits for the 2006-2007 season.