By Elisabeth Danis
On the evening of July 30th, I was sitting at the dinner table with Coach Cox, his wife Jen, daughter Addison, and two sons. Conversation revolved around the highlights of our day, how Addison’s summer training was going, and what was in store for me at The University of Alabama this coming fall. We were all excited for the possibilities, for Coe-Brown, and for me at Alabama. I left dinner feeling eager for the upcoming season. I was sure I was going to run faster than I had the previous two years. As I walked to my car, I texted Coach Tribble about the tempo I was going to do the following morning, confirming my pace, and reveling in the possibilities of the fall.
On the morning of July 31st, the Alabama women’s team got an email from Coach Tribble. He had accepted a head coaching position at California Baptist University that morning. He would not be there to greet us at practice on August 16th. I was in shock – first because I hadn’t ever considered the possibility of Tribble leaving in the middle of my college experience, and second because I suddenly became very unsure of my future at Alabama.
After texting my parents and Coach Cox in a panic, I immediately contacted our head coach. I was hoping to get some information on who would be replacing Tribble, and what would be in store for the women’s team this fall. I was mostly looking for reassurance that everything would work out. I also contacted a friend at the Atlanta Track Club (where I spent my summer interning) and asked for advice on what my next move should be. There were a lot of questions looming over each run for the next few days. Who would be the new coach? Would I like him/her? Did I feel like I was reaching my full potential at Alabama? If I left, where would I go? Should I leave? At the advice of almost everyone in my life, I gave it some time. I let my thoughts settle and waited for our head coach to reach out to the women’s team. After a few days of waiting and receiving no word from Alabama, I decided the best move for me personally would be to ask for a release from Alabama which would allow me to communicate with other universities.
There were a few reasons I decided to ask for a release, and there were a few things people that made that a possibility for me. First, I was concerned about the lack of communication from Alabama and the short notice of Coach Tribble leaving. I felt like there should have been something more – an email, a group text, something that involved all of us girls telling us that we would be okay; that we would still have a great fall. That although this was sad, it wasn’t the end of the world.
Second, I was frustrated. I put in two years of work with Coach Tribble and had finally developed what I considered a strong relationship with him. I believe it’s incredibly important to have a personal relationship with your coach. That’s how I run at my best. It takes a lot of trust – in both directions – (and in my opinion) to run well, and I was hurt. I felt like that trust was broken. Sometimes we forget that college running isn’t quite like high school. It’s a business, there’s money involved, and coaches at this level need to do what’s best for themselves and their families. It’s understandable, but it still stinks. I was also frustrated because I felt like I hadn’t run as fast as I wanted to yet. I felt like, inside me, there was so much more potential than I was achieving.
Third, Coach Cox gave me a few words of wisdom. Having gone through multiple coaching changes in college himself, he described how it wasn’t the same to have a Coach who hadn’t recruited him. It was then that I realized that the next person to coach me needed to be someone I trusted, someone who I wanted to be coached by, and someone who wanted to coach me. My parents were my biggest supporters throughout this period of time. Together, as a family, we sat down and planned, logistically, what transferring would look like. Did I have enough money to change schools if I couldn’t get another scholarship? How would I move all my things out of Alabama? Was it feasible for me to pack up and find a new place to live three weeks before the semester started? I want to give a huge thank you to my parents. Without their support, their love, and their willingness to let me chase my dreams (literally and figuratively), I wouldn’t have been able to leave Alabama. They put their lives on pause, as much as I did, to make sure I would end up somewhere I was happy. Without my parents being completely on board, I would not have been able to leave Alabama.
The next step was to find a new coach. Thanks to connections through a friend I had made at the Atlanta Track Club, and through Coach Cox, I came up with a short list of schools that I was interested in talking with. I wanted to look at this change not as something to fear and be sad about, but as an opportunity to reevaluate where I was in my running career. I wanted to take the opportunity to prioritize what was really important me to and ensure that in the next few years, I would have the opportunity to reach the highest level of success that I am capable of. I immediately started calling coaches, meeting with coaches, and flew South to get a jump-start on packing.
Just over a week after Coach Tribble left, I called Coach Hoppler at the University of New Hampshire and told him that I wanted to be a part of his program and his team. And I am pumped about it. There were a few reasons I felt like Coach Hoppler and UNH were going to be the best fit for me. The biggest reason, though, was that after I received my release from Alabama, I panicked. I was unsure about whether I had made the biggest mistake of my life or the best decision I could have ever made. After calling Coach Hoppler, for the first time, I felt like everything was going to be okay. His first question wasn’t about my running or career at Alabama, but if I was okay, and how I was feeling about my world turning upside down. He reassured me I had a place at UNH if I wanted it, talked about helping me reach my potential, and encouraged me to make the decision best for me (no matter where it led). We talked about running with girls from New Hampshire again, including Shannon Murdock, and being closer to my support system. He also talked to me about the possibility of redshirting the year and taking a fifth year, which is something I wanted to do (and will be doing). Moving home meant my parents got to watch me race again, I would be able to see my close friends, and would get to spend some time watching Coe-Brown’s team compete and grow. Those three groups of people made up my support system when I was running in high school, and the possibility of having that support again was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Transferring three weeks before school starts is not easy! It’s almost impossible. Coach Hoppler and the amazing staff at UNH jumped through ridiculous hoops to get me on the team this late, and that was just another sign of their amazing commitment to student-athletes. Being a student-athlete at UNH already feels more personal than it did at Alabama. Throughout the whole process, I was told, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.” And that’s true. In the few short weeks (or days) I’ve officially been a Wildcat, I have felt completely welcome, and completely cared for. Transferring is hard, but being somewhere that makes you happy is worth it. It’s a scary process, but with the right support, it’s an incredible opportunity. I don’t regret a single moment of moving south. I made some unbelievable friends, grew as a person more than I thought possible, and learned how to be responsible for myself. I traveled to some crazy awesome places, ran with some of the sweetest people I’ll ever met, and made unforgettable memories. The athletics program at the Alabama did an incredible job supporting me, and I am so thankful for the time I was given there. I wouldn’t change a moment. I am sad to have left Alabama, but, more than that, I am wicked excited for the possibilities that lie ahead of me, thankful for the past i have grown from, and am proud to get to wear “New Hampshire” across my chest in coming years.