New, but familiar, faces now Card head coaches
The District 206 activities department added two experienced coaches as Randy Albers and Andy Shriver were officially added to the coaching circle at Jefferson High School late this summer.
Albers will take over the reins of the Alexandria softball program from Bob Cunniff, while Shriver heads a girls' hockey program that became a perennial state tournament contender under former coach Mitch Loch. Both coaches have exactly what Activities Director David Hartmann was looking for in the search.
"When you have positions open, you don't know what to expect," Hartmann said. "You hope to fill them with quality people who buy into our philosophy of being good coaches who also develop a total person. I think we have that in both Randy and Andy."
Shriver has come full circle with this Alexandria girls' hockey program. He served as its first head coach during the inaugural season in 1998-99. Shriver spent three years in that role before stepping away to focus on his family after the birth of his son, Brock.
Shriver continued to coach at almost all levels of Alexandria's youth hockey system. He coached in both the boys' and girls' programs, following his daughter and his sons as they went through the system.
With his kids now older, Shriver was quick to jump on an opportunity to get back into teaching and coaching. It was a perfect storm of events for him as a position opened to teach second grade at Voyager Elementary. Loch's resignation then opened the door for him to get back into coaching at the varsity level.
"It couldn't be a better situation for me right now," he said.
Shriver has admired the high school hockey program from a distance as it has gone to seven state tournaments in the last eight years. He takes over a team that is much more settled than the one he led almost 10 years ago.
"It's obviously the same position, but the landscape has really changed from the day I was calling JV soccer players and asking them if they had any interest in learning how to skate," Shriver said. "Having a state-ranked program in place to take over is a pretty exciting thing to be a part of."
He will have some returning talent to work with. The Cardinals will return 18 of the 20 players off of last year's state-tournament team. That means expectations will be pretty high in his first year back.
"One of the best things about last year's team was that they took what was meant to be somebody else's year and made it their own," Shriver said. "Most of that team is returning. Any time you have success and look at graduating players and see that it's not much, you have to be optimistic."
Albers finds himself in a similar situation with the softball team. The Cardinals will return nine of 11 varsity players from a team that went 9-5 in the Central Lakes Conference this past spring. It is a group of girls he feels comfortable with after spending the last five years as an assistant under Cunniff.
"There is a comfort factor there," Albers said. "I have a pretty good idea of what I've got and what I'll be working with. There are some underclassmen that will push for some spots, too, that played JV last season."
Hartmann said Albers' experience playing softball and the connections he has built through that made him stand out. Albers has played fast-pitch softball since he was 15 years old. He played for a team based in Villard and still plays in tournaments in the Twin Cities.
"I grew up playing it," Albers said. "There's a lot of similarities between fast-pitch and baseball, but there are some nuances in softball that I have learned. Along with playing, I've made a lot of connections with other players who coach at the high school or college level and talk with them on a regular basis. That's been helpful."
Albers will also have the benefit of having an assistant on his staff with head-coaching experience. Tanya Jensen put her name in the running for the head coaching position after holding the same role at Long Prairie-Grey Eagle. She took a job as a family and consumer science teacher in District 206 and immediately agreed to serve as Albers assistant.
"She was also a very strong candidate," Hartmann said. "She had that head coaching experience, working with females is a positive, but she jumped right in and said yes to being an assistant. We think we have the best of both worlds."
Hartmann said he sets out to hire coaches who can lead kids both in and out of competition. That is exactly what he believes he found in Albers and Shriver.
"They are both good, solid, quality people," he said, "that want to develop good people, along with good athletes."