Co-coaches Mike Langlois, in the foreground and Dave Kaplan, right, demonstrate using the hitting cage to Emily Kaplan at Monmouth Academy recently.
When the Poland head softball coach position opened up this year, former assistant coach Kayla Vannah really wanted the job.
The only problem was that her day job — an elementary school teacher in Windham — prevented her from being able to fully commit to the position. It was the reason she didn’t go for the job when it was open last year, but she didn’t want to let the opportunity slip a second time.
So she had to get creative.
That meant getting a second head coach to join her. So in came Katrina Seeley, a former Poland player and a teacher at the school.
“I needed someone to kind of be there to cover things when I couldn’t, go on the bus because I can’t get here at whatever time we leave, and someone was like ‘hey, why don’t you ask Kat Seeley?'” Vannah said. “So I shot her a text one night, probably around January, and I was like, ‘Hey, what do you think?’ And she was like, ‘Absolutely.'”
So now the Knights program is turning to co-coaches. But they’re not the only local program to do so.
Dave Kaplan was in the same boat three years ago when the Monmouth Academy coaching job became available. The retired Hall-Dale coach was approached about leading the Mustangs, but trying to lead a program alone while juggling two day jobs wasn’t going to happen. So Kaplan’s brother, Steve, introduced him to local youth softball coach Mike Langlois and suggested they apply for the job as co-coaches.
Now entering their fourth season together, Kaplan said he and Langlois are “pretty well in sync, like an old married couple.”
“Really, we love the game, and we understand the game, and we both love working with kids, so we just blend together,” Kaplan said.
“Where we hadn’t really met each other before, we kind of clicked right off,” Langlois said.
Vannah and Seeley, teammates on summer and winter softball teams, hope to do the same thing at Poland.
“We work really well, where I’m kind of the mouthpiece, and she’s kind of the action person,” Vannah said. “She kind of keeps me organized and keeps me on the schedule, and I’m kind of the one that is always chirping and the loud one that keeps everyone going.”
“I’d say I’m probably more of the organized one, make sure (we’ve) got the uniforms ready, make sure everything is all set, the gear, getting a classroom signed out, or fundraisers, all that stuff,” Seeley said. “I’d be the go-to for that.”
The two first-time head coaches also have their strengths on the field, as well.
“We have our own I’d say specialties, I guess, where she was a pitcher in high school and she knows a lot about pitching and the infield, so that’s her focus,” Seeley said. “And I caught in high school, so my more focus is to work with the catchers and the outfielders.”
“I’ll be coaching third base, and she’ll be at first,” Vannah said. “The talk that we had in the beginning of the year is that I would take the primary role as head coach, but that she would do everything with me, where I have a little bit more experience than she does at this point in time.”
Vannah is taking a role similar to Kaplan at Monmouth. After spending a decade at Hall-Dale, Kaplan said he’s comfortable dealing with any issues that arise either on the field or off. That was something that Langlois couldn’t say the same about, with the world of youth softball a vastly different one from the varsity game, outside of the X’s and O’s.
“I had the knowledge of the game, but he had the knowledge of coaching at that level,” Langlois said.
Kaplan called himself “the front man of the band, so to speak,” but noted that Langlois isn’t a “shrinking violet” when it comes to speaking up on the field.
Another local team has two head coaches, as well, even if only one has the official title. But it’s hard for Buckfield assistant Dan Jack to not forget sometimes that he’s not carrying the torch for the Bucks. It takes his daughter, head coach Sandy Albert, to remind him.
“We work well together and really know how each other think about the game, as we have been around the game for a very long time together,” said Albert, who was coached by her father while winning two state championships with the Bucks in the early ’90s.
Adding her father’s softball knowledge — not to mention the pedigree of winning five state titles in total — was a no-brainer for Albert.
It’s the same reason Lisa Russell has Gary Dolloff on board at Mountain Valley. Dolloff’s official title is junior varsity coach (despite the Falcons not fielding a JV team this season), but Russell said she thinks of him as a co-coach. Dolloff is a longtime wrestling and football coach in Rumford, in addition to his softball knowledge.
Having knowledge and instilling it in players are two different things, but Kaplan and Langlois have been able to do that with their Mustangs.
“They have different inputs on the game, and different looks and views, and different words of wisdom they give us,” Monmouth junior Tia Day said. “It’s kind of cool having two coaches that know the game well.”
Having two head coaches also means that there’s no drop-off in wisdom and production if life takes precedence over softball.
“You got two solid, strong voices that know what they’re talking about. If I can’t be here, I got 100 percent confidence that practice is getting done right,” Kaplan said.
Even the one-on-one coaching becomes easier.
“If one coach is busy, since there’s a lot of girls, you can talk to the other one and get help from either one,” Day said.
Two coaches can also mean the possibility of two different messages, however.
“You have to make sure that the kids understand that they can’t play mommy-daddy with the coaches,” Kaplan said. “If Mike tells them something, that’s the way it is. Same thing if I tell them something. So we’re very careful that those lines don’t get blurred, that they can’t ever play coaches against each other. And that doesn’t happen much, but it can, so we watch for that.”
Vannah and Seeley said they made sure they got on the same page before preseason practices started.
“I think we’re well-versed in the thought that we know we can have a conversation, and I don’t think either one of us are stepping on any toes and pretty much agree on everything that we talked about,” Vannah said.
The two-coach system has proven to be an effective one for Monmouth, but Poland’s duo has yet to find out if its plan will work just as well.
“I mean, we haven’t coached a game yet,” Seeley said.
“I don’t have any concerns because we’ve already gone through picking a team and figuring out cuts, and that’s the worst of it,” Vannah said. “I think the game stuff is the fun stuff.”
Poland softball co-coaches Kayla Vannah, left and Katrina Seeley were still stuck practicing in the school’s gym a week before the season was set to start, but were eager to get on the field for their first season together as co-coaches.