GENESEO — A love for the game and faith have contributed to the success of SUNY Geneseo field hockey coach Jessica Seren.
Seren, a 2002 graduate of Gloversville High School, picked up her 100th victory this fall en route to coaching the Knights to the State University of New York Athletic Conference Field Hockey championship and a berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Her efforts in the 11-10 season that included a 10-1 record in the Knights last 11 games heading into the tournament, led to Seren earning SUNYAC Field Hockey Coach of the Year honors.
“I am fortunate to still be involved in the sport I love,” Seren said. “It is different [coaching]. It has been great to experience a different side of the game. It is a little more stressful at times but it is also very rewarding, especially at Geneseo. The college itself attracts good student athletes. It is a fun job.”
Seren played for Gloversville starting on the modified team and helped the varsity reach the Section II championship match in her junior and senior years.
“I knew I wanted to be on a team and play a sport. I had no idea what field hockey was at the time,” Seren said. “I had no exposure to it up to that point [playing modified]. I liked ice hockey and followed a lot of professional teams. I just fell into field hockey because I thought at the time they were similar.”
She continued her playing career at SUNY Cortland. Seren was a four-year starter for the Red Dragons, earning the SUNYAC Rookie of the Year honor in 2002, as well as a three-time All-SUNYAC and All-Region selection. Cortland participated in the NCAA Tournament in each of her four campaigns, reaching the semifinal round twice.
Seren served as an assistant coach for a season at Cortland where she expanded her knowledge of the game and learned the finer points of coaching.
“You never really think about all the different aspects you are involved in as a coach,” she said. “It is not as much about the Xs and Os, it is a lot of managing, promoting and developing an environment where you have these college-age players that you want to be part of their development both on and off the field. I would say that about 10 percent of my job is about the Xs and Os and strategies. It is more about developing that culture and developing their growth and success on the field as well as off the field.”
Finding pieces to the puzzle to keep that tradition going does not always include a player who has the ability to score multiple goals.
“First and foremost is character and coachability,” Seren said she looks for. “Then having a good, solid skill foundation to work with and athleticism is always helpful but I pay more attention to the attributes that the person is going to bring to the team the help promote our culture. If you don’t have that it is hard to be successful as far as having a good team dynamic to work from. I want someone who is going to part of the system, be a team player who puts the team before themselves. That is a huge part of being successful and allows the players you bring in to reach their potential. I has got to be a really good, positive working environment.”
Seren credits her high school coach Don Kaiser with setting an example on the sidelines that she has carried with her through her playing and coaching careers.
“One of the most valuable things that he did that I do as a coach is that he gave players faith in his decision-making process,” she said. “I have found that to be such a valuable asset to me now as a coach for this program here at Geneseo. That is what gives you buy-in [to the program] from your players. Without that you could be the best coach out there and you won’t have successful teams or a successful program. It really needs that ability for the players to have faith in you because they are the ones who are out there every day. If they feel like they are a part of the decision-making process, it goes a long way toward their buy-in, belief and dedication to the program. It is tough. There is a balance, but you definitely need to give the players a part in the decision-making process. It goes a long way. There are boundaries and you can establish those boundaries and still have the players involved in the decision-making process.”
Having faith in the program has led to Seren building a 103-69 record in her nine-years at Geneseo and qualifying for the NCAA D-III tournament twice.
This fall the Knights advanced from the third-seed in the SUNYAC Tournament to the title match with a 1-0 upset victory over second-seeded New Paltz before upending Oneonta, 3-2 in overtime to earn the NCAA tournament berth.
“I really think that my successes and milestones are just a reflection of my teams and the players I have been fortunate enough to coach,” she said. “I think Geneseo itself attracts a quality student-athlete and they have bought into this culture I have tried to promote since I have been here. They show up and put the time in and are dedicated to reaching the goals we set out to accomplish. I also think I have been fortunate to work with a very supportive administration here at the college. They put me in a position to be successful. It is a very good environment here.”
Seren is quick to credit all the support she has received throughout her career, especially from her family.
“I have been fortunate to have great coaches and mentors along the way and I continue to build upon those relationships,” she said. “I also have strong family support. My dad [George] comes to every one of my games and my mom [Lucia] comes to most of them, too. You can never underestimate the value of a good family support system and I have that.”