Monmouth co-coach Dave Kaplan talks to his niece Emily Kaplan during a game earlier this season in Monmouth. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

MONMOUTH — For their entire high school careers, Emily Kaplan and Haylee Langlois have had the blessing and the curse of being really close with their Monmouth softball co-coaches.

That’s because to the two seniors those co-coaches are “Uncle” and “Dad,” respectively.

There have been both pros and cons to being a coach’s relative, but looking back, the players say they wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

ROUGH START

It wasn’t always a dream scenario for Kaplan and Langlois. They both made it onto the Mustangs’ varsity squad as freshmen, but their places on the team came into question by others.

“Going through the years of middle school and high school, it got difficult at some points because sometimes when I would start as even younger, like a freshman or sophomore, people would say it’s because he’s my dad, ‘You’re only out there because he’s your dad,'” Langlois said. “And they didn’t believe me because of my talent, so that is something I had struggled with from the beginning, and I had to prove to myself, but once I finally proved it, that stopped.”

Kaplan didn’t have a guaranteed spot or playing time her first year, but started the season as a swinger between varsity and JV. Then injuries started to accrue for the Mustangs, and she found herself getting more and more playing time.

“That helped me alleviate some of the maybe tension that would have been there if I had just been placed on varsity, because we had so many injuries that we had to figure out a way to get through that,” Kaplan said.

One of those injuries was to Langlois, who hurt her ankle sliding into second base after doubling in her first varsity at-bat.

Haylee Langlois gets a fist-bump from her father, Monmouth co-coach Mike Langlois, during a game earlier this season in Monmouth. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

“That was a tough spot because she had to come back and prove herself once again that year, and jump right back in the lineup,” co-coach Mike Langlois said. “So there was some favorite cards drawn, with thought, but again it comes to performance and hard work.”

COACHES’ KIDS

One advantage to being a coach’s kid (or niece) is that there’s a tutor on hand for those times outside of games and practices. Emily and Haylee eat, sleep and breath softball because they’ve grown up with the sport.

“They’re indoctrinated at an early age,” co-coach Dave Kaplan, Emily’s uncle, said. “So, typically, they’re ahead of other kids.”

Kaplan said he’d guess that Emily has spent hundreds of hours in her family’s garage hitting against a pitching machine.

Haylee said she and her dad “always went hitting,” but that it was her idea rather than her dad pushing her into it. Mike always used those times as an opportunity to teach something new to Haylee.

And it’s those off-the-field experiences that give coaches’ kids a leg up.

“These kids come in (to high school) knowing the rules,” Dave Kaplan said. “They’ve played softball for a long time, they think athletically, they get it.”

HARD TIMES

Haylee said having to fight to get her starting spot back after that game-one injury was one of a few instances where she wished her dad wasn’t her coach.

“I’d be like, ‘Yeah, sometimes I wish you weren’t my coach, Dad, because things would be a little easier,’ in the aspect of me, but it definitely has made me work a lot harder than I ever would, because it’s like you need to prove yourself,” Haylee Langlois said. “And that’s what life’s about.”

Emily also had to deal with the nepotism assumptions, but never regretted having both her uncle and her dad (Steve, a Monmouth assistant) on the coaching staff.

Dave Kaplan jokingly said, “She wishes that once in a while, I know, because I see ‘the hand.'”

Emily said the difficult times have been when she’s had to try to not bring a disagreement with her dad at home onto the field, or when she would have to try to mediate a teammate’s frustrations with her uncle.

SAD ENDING

Now that Emily and Haylee have established their spots in their four-year careers, the Mustangs’ team dynamic and chemistry has gotten better, they say. And with Dave Kaplan and Mike Langlois now in their sixth year as co-coaches of the Mustangs, the players in the program have grown closer to the coaches who have kids on the team (Emily’s younger sister, Casey, is a freshman).

“A lot of the girls now, we grew up with, so they look at my dad or Dave as, ‘Oh, they’re almost like a family figure to us,’ because they have been in their life so long,” Haylee said. “They’ve been to the middle school games supporting, and those little minor league games, and always they’re supporting, so now it’s almost like we’re just one big family. Because they look to them and they can go talk to them because it’s almost like another parent for some of these players.”

But just as Emily and Haylee have gotten more comfortable with their family members heading their softball team, they are on the verge of that relationship coming to an end. Each game this season means one less the girls will have with their dads and uncle.

“I’ve had them since T-ball,” Mike Langlois said. “So it’s not going to be an easy year to get by this year.”

“I’ll be done crying about next April, honestly,” Dave Kaplan said. “I’m a big baby, and I’ll be bawling my eyes out at graduation.”

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