In The Locker Room with Tiffany Saunders and Sara Schoenhoft
This week, the Review sat down with field hockey Head Coach Tiffany Saunders and Softball Head Coach Sara Schoenhoft to discuss their first year coaching at Oberlin College.
Where are you from originally?
TS: I’m from Virginia Beach, VA.
SS: I grew up in Cincinnati, where my family still lives.
What is your athletic/coaching background?
TS: I went to Radford University with an athletic scholarship and played field hockey there for four years. Then I returned to my alma mater, where I coached for five years, and after my program was cut I came out to Ohio.
SS: I went to Kenyon [College], so I never imagined that I’d ever be coaching at Oberlin, and most recently I was the assistant coach at Kenyon, so I traveled an hour and a half through cornfields and ended up here. I did graduate work in Massachusetts and coached a few different programs in that area during that time. I was the head coach at Emory & Henry College in Virginia before returning to Ohio.
What drew you to Oberlin?
TS: I saw that there was a strong opportunity to build a foundation here with a great group of individuals. I’ve always looked for players with passion and drive, and the opportunity to teach my players with that drive who buy into the program is what I am most excited about.
SS: I wanted to stay at a high academic school, and it’s hard for me to admit, but Oberlin is a better academic school than Kenyon. So the transition is easy in that regard, and I’m glad I get to stay in Ohio and be close to my family.
Is our athletic community different than other places you’ve been?
TS: When I came in for the interview process, I came from a program where we weren’t as supported by the administrators. Everyone was more or less in their own bubble. But when I visited, everyone I saw in the hallway was smiling. I thought, “Did everyone say, ‘OK, the hockey coach is coming today, everyone smile on three?’” Then I met Natalie [Winklefoos], and when I finished my interview, I texted my husband immediately and told him, “I’m doing this!” The administration made my decision for me. Everyone here is so helpful and supportive; it’s really comforting to know that we’re all on the same team.
SS: What really stood out to me was when I wrote thank you emails to everyone that I met with on various search committees for all the jobs that I had applied to over the summer, I got a thoughtful, personal response from everyone that I met with here [at Oberlin]. That gesture cemented the deal for me. Having a staff that cares so much about the school, is supportive and wants to succeed is great. At my previous program every coach ran their own team, and here it really feels like we’re an athletics department.
Tiffany, how has the experience been for you going from a Division I to a Division III program?
TS: I have a million questions most of the time. Compliance-wise, we had to be very meticulous about every move we made at Radford, so I’ve been asking questions just to make sure that I am within the guidelines. Most of the time, my colleagues will say that what I’m thinking is OK, but it’s always better to be sure. The duties of a head coach as compared to an assistant, even at Division I, are still a ginormous jump. I’ve had a lot of work in that regard, especially coming in and starting preseason right away and having so much to do in a small amount of time. Overall, the transition has been great given the timeframe.
Sara, coming from another NCAC program and a big Oberlin rival at that, do you have any apprehension? Is the job you’re going to do made easier or harder?
SS: I am a little sad, mostly because I went to Kenyon and I will always love it there. But I am excited: There is good softball in the NCAC, and I am really glad to get the chance to stay in this conference. I already know what I’m up against in the conference, so I don’t have to start over scouting.
What has your favorite moment in Oberlin been thus far?
TS: My entire preseason has been the highlight of my time here. Running practices while still memorizing names was stressful, but getting to know each one of my players on a personal level has been great. We spent a lot of time together this preseason, and getting to know my players both on and off the field has been the highlight of my time here.
SS: For me, my favorite moments have been every time that I’ve gotten to interact with my players. Every moment I’ve gotten to spend with them has been a highlight.
If you could improve one thing about Oberlin’s Athletic Department, what would it be?
TS: Air conditioning in Philips gym!
SS: I mentioned already to the administration some changes I wanted to see on the softball field, such as a warning track near the fence and from the backstop to the foul lines. And they’ve already begun to implement some of the changes I want to see. I want to improve that, but the administration has done a great job supporting what I want to see done.
If I looked through your iPod for the last song you played, what would it be?
TS: Rebelution, “Sky is the Limit.” If you time it with the pull-ups, it’s a good workout song.
SS: Rascal Flatts. I went to their concert this past weekend at Blossom. I don’t even like them that much, but the concert was so much fun. I’ve been listening to them a lot lately.
What is your favorite song to play during pregame?
TS: DJ Sammy, “Heaven.”
SS: I like any song that moves me. Last year, I played “Ghost” by Ella Henderson before our games. It pumps up no one, but it gets me pumped up!
Interview by Alex Wright