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Jen Shea, head softball coach, assistant field hockey coach, teaches swimming as an adjunct professor of athletics.
 
Posted 04.17.06

Softball Coach Takes a Swing at Three Sports

Q: At what age did you first pick up a bat and ball, and where was this?

A: I grew up in Hatfield, Massachusetts. Hatfield is a small town of 3,500 people with a strong athletic tradition. When I was in elementary school, the high schoolís varsity softball team won back-to-back state titles and that is when I really became interested in the sport. I started off playing T-ball when I was in first grade and then graduated to slow-pitch softball when I was in fourth grade. I started playing fast-pitch when I was in seventh grade.

Q: Did you always excel in softball or other sports? What positions did you play?

A: I was a three-sport athlete in high school: field hockey, basketball and softball. I was always a pitcher in softball, but it wasnít until my sophomore year of high school that I really started to be successful. During my senior year of high school, I threw four consecutive no-hitters. Also during my senior year, our field hockey team went undefeated and won the Division I state title. Team accomplishments have always been more important to me than individual ones.

Q: Are softball and field hockey similar in any way?

A: Softball and field hockey really arenít similar at all. I started playing them both when I was younger because they were the only sports offered in my school during their respective seasons. I really enjoy field hockey, but softball has always been my first passion.

Q: During your undergraduate years at Amherst, I understand you were the team captain of both the softball and field hockey teams. What were your biggest accomplishments?

A: My biggest accomplishment in softball was definitely winning the Little Three title my senior year. We had never beaten Williams in softball and then we swept them in a doubleheader the last weekend of the regular season to not only win the Little Three title, but also to secure a bid to the NCAA tournament. We went into NCAAs as the No. 5 seed in the New England Region and made it all the way to the finals. Being named to the New England Region All-Tournament Team was definitely an honor. In field hockey, I was selected to play in the Division III North-South All-Star game in 1997, but being the No. 1 team in New England my junior year and being selected for the NCAA Division III tournament was a bigger thrill.

Q: What did you receive your degrees in and when did you decide that coaching is what you wanted to do for a living?

A: I have a bachelorís degree in American studies from Amherst and a masterís degree in exercise and sports studies from Smith College. I went to college planning on majoring in math or computer science, but realized during my sophomore year that sports meant more to mean than just another extra-curricular activity. I had an internship in the sports department of a local newspaper during the summer of 1997 because I thought I wanted to go into sports journalism. It was during that time that I realized I wanted to be on the field teaching and coaching, not just covering games from the sidelines.

Q: How old is your softball glove, and how many have you gone through in your softball career?

A: My current glove is only about a year old. The previous one I had was from when I was in college and it finally became time to retire it last year. This is probably my fifth glove since I started playing.

Q: What months does the softball season span? Field hockey? When do the women begin training?

A: Softball practice begins on Feb. 15 each year and the season goes through the end of April. Field hockey practice begins during the end of August and the season ends at the end of October. Training for both sports really occurs year-round these days as the athletes need to stay in shape and on top of their game mentally and physically.

Q: Youíre midway through the current softball season. How is the team looking?

A: Each year since Iíve been here the team has gotten better and I feel the same is true this year. Thereís a mix of eight returners and nine new players, so there has definitely been learning and growing processes involved. The women on the team are supportive of one another and work hard everyday in practice. I donít think our record is a true indicator of the potential that the team has and we have a lot left to show in the next two weeks.

Q: Who are you leading hitters and fielders?

A: Molly Gaebe í07 is our leading hitter and also a top pitcher along with Karla Hargrave í08 and Dayna Yorks í07. Marcia Whitehead í08 is a rock defensively at third base and Becca Feiden í08 patrols center field. They are also two of our top hitters as well. Tri-captains Beth Bernstein í06, Sarah Gillooly í06 and Lynn Leber í06 have all done an excellent job in leading this young team.

Q: Tell me about your spring break.

A: We went to California for spring break and played 14 games while we were out there. The trip was highlighted by the teamís first win over NESCAC rival Tufts in 11 years.

Q: What do you look for in student-athletes?

A: I want student-athletes who are going to work hard, want to be coached, and are going to make the team a priority. I think academics and athletics go hand-in-hand and I look for student-athletes who want to succeed in both arenas.

Q: Do you currently play on any teams or are you strictly focusing on coaching?

A: I started playing club field hockey this past fall after a hiatus of several years. I also played a little slow-pitch softball last summer and am planning on continuing to play this summer.

Q: What class do you teach as an adjunct assistant professor?

A: I teach Swimming for Fitness. I enjoy teaching physical education classes at Wesleyan because it gives me a chance to meet more of the student body than just my players. Swimming is a life-long sport so I feel Iím helping the students learn something that they can use after they leave Wesleyan.

Q: During the summers of 1999 and 2000, you were the head coach of the West scholastic division softball squad in the Bay State Games in Massachusetts. Where else did you coach before coming to Wesleyan in 2001?

A: After graduating from Amherst, I was selected as the collegeís Hitchock Fellow in Physical Education. My responsibilities included being an assistant coach in three sports - field hockey, basketball, and softball - as well as teaching physical education classes. During that year I decided that coaching was the career I definitely wanted to embark upon. While I was in graduate school at Smith College, I continued to coach at Amherst as the assistant field hockey coach in 1999 and co-head softball coach in 2000 and 2001. I also was a sub-varsity field hockey coach at Williston-Northampton School in the fall of 2000 and the middle school girlsí basketball coach at my alma mater, Smith Academy, in the winter of 2000-2001.

Q: Who are your assistant coaches in softball?

A: My assistants this year are E.J. Heng and Leah Kelley. Both were stand-out players at the Division I level. E.J. is from California and played college ball at U.C.-Santa Barbara, while Leah is from Western Massachusetts. She played softball at Yale and is now an assistant dean of admission at Wesleyan. They are great assistants who have added a great deal of insight and have helped make me a better coach.

Q: Do you ever just go out and throw a ball for fun?

A: Sure! Just yesterday after practice, Leah and I jumped in the batting cage to take some swings. And often while the team is warming up at the beginning of practice, my assistants and I will warm-up our arms, too. It keeps us young!

Q: How influential was your family in your sports career?

A: I am very close with my family and my parents have been very supportive of me and my teams. They often travel down to Middletown from Massachusetts to watch us play. I really appreciate all the advice and encouragement they have given me over the years. If it werenít for them, I would have never gotten involved in sports in the first place.

Q: Do you have any plans for the summer?

A: My summer project, besides recruiting for softball, is going to be renovating a house that Iím in the process of buying. Itís a little daunting, but Iím excited to get started and finally have a place to call my own. Iím also a huge Red Sox fan and I try to go to some games every summer and was even lucky enough to see a play-off game at Fenway in 2004 when the Sox were on their way to winning the World Series. Thereís nothing like baseball in the summer!

 
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor