Alexandria coaches Mitch Loch, Bob Cunniff retireBoth have led highly successful teams through the years
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
The Jefferson High School activities department will have to replace two coaches with a combined 303 wins between them after Bob Cunniff and Mitch Loch handed activities director David Hartmann their letters of resignation after the school year.
Both coaches have been staples on successful programs over the last decade. Loch guided the Cardinal girls’ hockey team to a 174-102-17 record in 10 years as the head coach. Cunniff went 129-55 in eight years at the helm of the softball program.
Loch’s run with the girls’ hockey program was filled with postseason success. He guided his team to seven state tournament appearances in the last eight seasons and eight straight section title games. All of that was highlighted by the program’s first state title in 2008.
“That state title will always stand out,” Loch said. “To see that team, after being at state for four years and not having much success, overcoming adversity and winning, that was a highlight.”
The decision to walk away came down to spending more time with his family. Loch’s stepdaughter, Lyndsey Harp, was named the most improved dancer on the Cardinal dance team this past winter as just an 8th grader. With dance and hockey season overlapping, Loch hardly ever got an opportunity to see her perform.
“I just want to spend more time watching her as she becomes a better dancer,” he said. “It was just too much time. I needed some more time with my family. My youngest is starting kindergarten, oldest is going off to college. Things are changing at home, and it’s just time to spend a little more time with my family.”
Cunniff’s decision also came down to family, but it was more his time to step away. Cunniff retired this year after 35 years of teaching in the Alexandria school system. He coached in some capacity for 33 of those years, helping out with the volleyball and girls’ basketball programs along the way.
“I retired from teaching and I figured this would be as good a time as any,” he said. “There’s no good time. It would never be easy for me, and it wasn’t an easy decision because I have such great kids. People are probably [thinking] I’m stupid for retiring from coaching because I have so much talent coming up. But when will it ever be easy?”
Cunniff waited to tell his players about his decision until the team’s awards banquet on June 14. He said most of them seemed shocked because he had not let many people know that he was considering the move.
“It wasn’t because I was trying to be shocking,” he said. “I just wanted to tell my kids in person. That was the only reason.”
The Alexandria softball program was a model of consistency under Cunniff’s watch. The Cardinals were a three-time section finalist, a one-time CLC champion and never finished lower than third in the league in his eight years at the helm.
“The kids really liked him,” Hartmann said. “He’s also run the [Lakes Area Recreation] softball program for 30-some years, and he really cares about the kids and connects with them well. We had some very good teams under his leadership.”
Both Cunniff and Loch felt comfortable with the position they were leaving their programs in. The softball team will return nine of their 11 varsity players off a team that went 9-5 in the CLC, good for third in the conference.
“I see a lot of talent coming up,” Cunniff said. “I see a lot of successful years coming down the pike. It’s going in the right direction, and it has been for a while.”
The hockey program also returns the majority of its lineup after another trip to the state tournament this past winter.
“I always told myself I wanted to leave when the cupboard was still full,” Loch said. “I didn’t want people to be able to say, ‘he only left because [the team is no good anymore].’ We have 18 of 20 players returning off a state tournament team, so I thought this was a nice time to walk away and give a new coach a chance to come right in and be successful.”
Neither Cunniff nor Loch will disappear from the Alexandria athletic scene completely. Cunniff will continue to help out with many activities, including heading the LAR softball program this summer and working games on radio with KXRA’s Dave Harris. Loch plans to remain an assistant coach for the softball program.
The decision on who will replace them as head coaches should be officially announced sometime in July. The girls’ hockey position has already been accepted, but Hartmann could not officially confirm by whom until the school board approves the hiring.
The softball program has a number of strong applicants, including assistant coach Randy Albers. Interviews for that position will be conducted on July 12.
“We are fortunate to have quality people wanting to lead this program,” Hartmann said.