Coaching changes on four teams bring new names to Tech sports

As the 2009-10 academic year begins, several of Tech’s sports teams have witnessed changes on their coaching staffs and must adjust to new leadership in the coming year. Two varsity squads—the volleyball team and the swimming and diving team—brought in new head coaches, while the men’s and women’s basketball teams both saw assistant coaches depart to take up head coaching positions at other schools.

A big story last winter was the volleyball team’s hiring of Tonya Johnson, who has spent the last six years with the highly successful Texas Longhorns. Johnson, who began her career as an assistant at LSU and coached there from 1998-2002, played a key role in facilitating the growth of the Longhorns’ volleyball program into a national power. While an assistant from 2003-07, she helped to lead Texas to the NCAA Tournament four years in a row and to the Elite Eight in 2006 and 2007, and in 2008 she was promoted to associate head coach for the team’s run to the Final Four.

After joining the Jackets, Johnson hired a pair of assistants with whom she had close ties. One of them, Craig Bere, was an assistant at LSU under Fran Flory, who was also the head coach during Johnson’s time at the school; the other, Ed Tolentino, met Johnson while she was on the recruiting trail at Texas and has experience at both the club and collegiate levels.

Johnson replaces Bond Shymansky, who had a successful seven-year career with the Jackets before resigning to take over the head coaching job at Marquette University in Wisconsin. Shymansky’s Jackets teams won 20 or more games six times from 2002-08, and over his first two seasons Tech won a total of 67 games.

More recently, the swimming and diving team elected to promote from within and selected Courtney Hart, who has served as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator with the Jackets, to take over the head job. This will be Hart’s first head coaching position after spending three years as an assistant coach, one with North Florida and the past two with the Jackets. Hart built up an extensive resume during her athletic career, earning a number of accolades at the collegiate and international levels. While a student at the University of Georgia, she was on both varsity volleyball and swimming for the Lady Bulldogs and became a leading star in both sports in the SEC. Hart earned a pair of gold medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in two 400-meter relay events.

She will take over for Stu Wilson, who joined the team as an assistant coach in 2002 and became Head Coach in 2005. Wilson oversaw great growth in the program over that span, and in his final season the Jackets broke two dozen team records and won several ACC accolades.

While Wilson was a successful college swimmer, his talent as a coach drew more from his eleven years of experience with local club Swim Atlanta; as a result, Hart’s approach may be different, as she has made her biggest mark in the pool.

The men’s and women’s basketball teams retained their head coaches, but both had assistant coaches leave for higher positions elsewhere. On the men’s side, Charlton Young left Head Coach Paul Hewitt’s staff for the head coaching position at Georgia Southern University. Young began his coaching career at Tennessee-Chattanooga before joining the Jackets as an assistant. He stayed with the team for four seasons, earning a reputation as a strong recruiter. Young now returns to his alma mater, a school where he starred as a player in the early 1990’s, earning a spot in the GSU Sports Hall of Fame.

Young was not the only member of Tech’s coaching staff to depart for Georgia Southern.

He took with him Chris Kreider, who was an administrative assistant for the Jackets last season. Kreider has risen quickly through the college coaching ranks after serving as a volunteer assistant at the University of South Carolina-Aiken in 2006-07 and at Tech in 2007-08, and he now will be a full-time assistant coach on Young’s staff with the Eagles. Not all of Hewitt’s staff is gone, though, as assistants John O’Connor and Peter Zaharis remain with the team.

The women’s basketball coaching staff found itself in a similar situation, as one of Head Coach MaChelle Joseph’s assistants, Sytia Messer, departed for a head job elsewhere. Like Young, Messer was a star player in college, finishing her career at the University of Arkansas ranked in the school’s top ten in several career statistical categories. She later spent a total of four years as an assistant at Arkansas State and Memphis before coming to the Jackets, where in five years she had plenty of success as the team’s recruiting coordinator. Messer leaves the Jackets for Tennessee Tech.