Tom Blank, Darren Hawks and now Dr. Eric Brand.
That’s the head coaching lineage for Edgemont girls soccer as Brand replaces the retired-from-coaching-but-still-teaching-at-Edgemont Hawks, who stepped down over the winter after seven seasons, having succeeded Blank, the program’s founding coach.
Thanks to his high school basketball coach, J.R. Holmes, Brand has been coaching since he was 16 years old. “He made us all coach youth basketball and I got the bug,” Brand said of his coach, who became Indiana’s winningest high school coach, earning his 807th victory for Bloomington South, this past winter.
While attending Brandeis University, Brand, who played tennis, soccer, basketball and ran track in high school, did more volunteer coaching at Waltham High School for basketball and soccer. “I ended up deciding I wanted to become a teacher and I never left high school,” he said. “This is my 31st year in education. I’ve had a team almost every year since then — basketball or soccer or both.”
The impact Holmes had on Brand and others is undeniable on and off the court, such as working together, being a good teammate, giving back and turning into a “good, responsible adult.”
“It’s something I’d like to try to instill here,” Brand said. “Edgemont does have a strong youth soccer program, so I’d like to try to get our older girls involved in helping in a meaningful way, to be good role models. Just the idea of giving back… So few in the world get paid to play, so it’s about all the lessons you learn through high school sports.”
More recently, Brand has been coaching junior varsity soccer and basketball at Blind Brook. The long winter season didn’t seem to make sense for Brand to seek out a head coaching job, but the shorter spring season was something he felt he could handle.
“My kids were getting ready to go to college and I was single and had more free time. I decided I wanted to look more into coaching and my principal allowed me to do that,” Brand said.
Brand is the humanities department chair at Mount Vernon High School under principal Ron Gonzalez.
“One of the things I’ve learned at Mount Vernon that our principal always talks about is standing on the shoulders of giants,” Brand said. “I want to teach our kids to reach back and help others.”
Brand was a social studies teacher at Scarsdale Middle School, but left to become an administrator in the city and at Ramapo before going to Mount Vernon, where he enters his seventh year. He has been coaching so long that he was a JV basketball coach at Scarsdale under Barry Bergen, who retired after the 2001-02 season.
“In terms of the candidates we interviewed, he was head and shoulders above anybody else in terms of knowing the expectations and how to interact in a positive, appropriate way with the student-athletes and the parents,” athletics director Anthony DeRosa said. “It was clearly evident he was a very seasoned coach.”
Another finalist was Victoria Lettieri, who will be Brand’s assistant coach.
“She has a very strong background in soccer in terms of playing at a high level,” DeRosa said. “It was important for us to be able to bring an assistant into the mix that the girls can look up to and relate to as a positive role model. She’s also a teacher, which is great.”
The returning staff from last year has been moved around. Longtime Blank and Hawks assistant Alicia Waters will move to modified along with Christin Alicea, who was supposed be the JV coach last year, but spent the year with varsity as the JV team merged with varsity due to a lack of numbers. Modified coach Gianluca Ferrito moves up to coach the JV this fall.
“I am very happy to bring back that JV program a year after we weren’t able to put it together,” DeRosa said. “Even though we have some new faces for the program, we still have some continuity with the coaches that were here last year.”
DeRosa is always happy to hire an educator when it’s the right fit.
“In terms of interscholastic athletics, we are an extension of the classroom,” he said. “We very much operate in an educational environment and whenever you can have educators also serve as coaches I think it’s extremely beneficial for the kids and the program because you’re getting that educational approach.”
Brand was approved officially at the end of May, but only had one practice with the team during finals, so the first day of tryouts earlier this month was his first real time to get to meet the entire team.
“All summer I’ve been texting and giving them messages about hard work paying off and I gave them a goal to do a 2-mile run today, but the weather is not really cooperating with field usage,” Brand said. “We were supposed to start today at the track with a goal of 16 minutes. I gave them a running program for the summer and I was excited to see where that is, but we’ll do that tomorrow.
“I’m real excited to get on the field and see the effort they are going to put forward. From the little bit I’ve heard from the captains, some of the other girls and the parents who have reached out to me, there are a lot of kids who are really excited about the energy I’m bringing. We’ll see where that goes. I’ve always been a coach who believes you can’t coach effort — they have to come and want to bring it every day.”
The returning players have had time to process Hawks’ retirement and prepare for a fresh start.
“We all knew Hawks wasn’t going to be our coach, so it was expected, but it was different because I’ve had Hawks for three years,” captain Delphine Debargue said. “I have great hopes for this season and the practice we did have together was really great, so I know he’s going to be a great coach. We’re going to do really well this year.”
Debargue also appreciates that the JV team will return this year. While the veterans and younger players had a good experience as a large varsity team last year — a handful of JV players earned large amounts of unexpected playing time — Debargue knows how important a year or two of JV can be for the development of most players.
“I did my first year at JV to get used to the play,” she said. “Modified to JV is very different. You need to get used to playing with different coaches and different positions. Going straight to varsity isn’t easy. You need JV to grow into the player you can be.”
That said, there won’t be too many surprises or getting-to-know-you as far as the players go based on last year’s merge, so the team has a leg up.
“I think we’re going to do pretty well,” Debargue said. “A lot of us do know each other, so now we can actually have good chemistry on the field. It’s going to be harder because we lost most of our defense, but we can still make it work. I know a lot of players who can play any position, so I have high hopes for the season.”
A new era of Edgemont girls soccer kicks off Saturday, Sept. 7, at Woodlands.
“I know they’ve had some up and down success here at Edgemont, so my goal is to just get better every day, as cliché as it sounds,” Brand said. “I have a quote I’ve been saying for over 20 years: Work hard, work smart and have fun.”