This summer, the first-ever head coach of Seton Hall women’s golf, Sara Doell, accepted a new coaching position at the University of San Francisco. Over the seven years she spent building Pirates women’s golf from the ground up, Doell guided the team to three consecutive Big East championships between 2014 and 2016, three NCAA Regional appearances, 10 tournament titles and won herself three Big East Coach of the Year honors.
Now, Natalie Desjardins, a former standout golfer at LIU-Brooklyn who returned to coach at her alma mater in 2012, assumes leadership of a young golf program with a rich reputation. Desjardins, winner of the Northeast Conference Coach of the Year award in 2012 and a championship-winning collegiate golfer for the Blackbirds, is no stranger to victory. Desjardins will attempt to translate that experience to her new role taking over for Seton Hall women’s golf.
“I came into a program rich already in history,” Desjardins said. “I’m just looking to add onto the history in a positive way.”
Desjardins comes to Seton Hall equipped with the necessary background to sustain or surpass the precedent set by Doell. While coaching at LIU-Brooklyn, Desjardins led her team to 14 tournament victories and coached 12 All-NEC players. This season, she has the chance to work with a Hall golf team loaded with talented players, many of whom won at the conference and individual levels under Doell.
The question over the next few months is whether Desjardins can take the players on this team and build the legacy left by Doell using her own coaching methods and lessons learned from time spent coaching and playing golf in the NCAA. At the same time, Desjardins is open to hearing her players’ feedback to make their switch to a new coach as easy as possible.
“The transition has been, I think, as good as you could possibly picture it,” Desjardins said. “The girls have been really receptive to the change. They’re extremely open; they’ve been adapting to the transition, but I think as a new coach it’s also important to listen to your players and what has worked for them in the past, and kind of adapt to them as well.”
From Desjardins’ perspective, the transition process is mutual, and it will be critical for the team as a whole to grow together and develop the strategies that produce the best effort and performances.
It is easy to understand how veteran Hall golfers whose careers unfolded predominantly under Doell could have an especially difficult time placing their trust in a new coach. Macky Fouse, a senior, trusts in Desjardins’ ability to extend the history established by her predecessor.
“I think our coach right now [is] building off of what coach Doell has already built,” Fouse said. “Obviously [Doell]’s had a lot of success in the past, and so has coach Natalie. She’s also come from winning championships at LIU, so she definitely knows what it takes to win.”
With the faith of Fouse and the rest of the team behind her, Desjardins has begun implementing her own coaching style. The results so far consist of a third place finish at the William & Mary Invitational and a sixth place finish at the Nittany Lion Invitational, hosted by Penn State.
The team’s younger players will likely have an easier time adhering to Desjardins’ approach. However, for older golfers like Fouse, old coaching pointers from Doell might be hard to break.
“[Desjardins has] definitely a different coaching style than coach Doell,” Fouse said. “But I think it’s going to play to our benefit because, you know, even being out there on the course, sometimes I’ll hear Sara Doell’s voice in my head or something she would say, but [I’ll] also pull in the coaching techniques from our coach now.”
Balancing those contrasting coaching strategies will be a difficult but essential factor in the team’s success.
Now, with the transition underway, coaches and players alike will settle into the new leadership change and focus on the future. Their long-term goals include maintaining the team’s reputation as a powerhouse in the Big East and making a deeper run at the NCAA regional level.
But Desjardins does not want the team’s sole focus to be on winning championships. Instead, she favors a more holistic attitude.
“Obviously the Big East championship is always on the back of your minds. You want to be competitive throughout the year in order to prepare yourself for that,” Desjardins said. “But again, we can’t look at the end goal. We have to worry about one tournament at a time, one day at a time, one swing at a time. And once we do that, we’ll be in good shape throughout the season.”
Bob Towey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BobTowey5.