Two soccer players run toward the ball. Player A travels at 16 mph. So does Player B, but she’s 4 inches taller and 30 pounds heavier. So what’s the outcome?
Correct you are, Einstein. Player B wins the ball, and Player A bounces off her like a bumper car.
In the fall, this mass/velocity equation plays out repeatedly at Bates women’s soccer games, where Meg Coffin ’07 stars as an All-America defender. And in the winter, Coffin, an All-NESCAC center, works beneath the net in a way that makes teammate and point guard Sarah Barton ’08 glad they’re both Bobcats.
“I’d be afraid of her if I was playing against her,” says Barton. “She’s tough and she knows what she’s doing out there.”
The 6-foot-1-inch Coffin is blessed with lithe musculature, coordination, and speed — rare qualities in a Division III athlete of her height. In those soccer games, after Coffin outruns and outmuscles another player for the ball, the opposing coach invariably wails for a whistle. But size and speed aren’t illegal, so the ref allows play to go on.
“She catches a lot of players by surprise — surprised that someone her size would catch them,” says Jim Murphy ’69, Coffin’s soccer and basketball coach. “She plays skillfully, intelligently, aggressively, unselfishly. She’s the total package.”
Coffin also has an off-the-charts competitive streak, barking at teammates when their intensity level flags. In the verbal arena, too, her skills impress Murphy. “The game is a lot easier when people talk to each other,” he says. “But our hardest job with women’s soccer and basketball is to get these women to do that while they’re playing. Not only does Meg talk, but it’s correct, too. It’s concise, it’s loud, and it’s very helpful and beneficial to her teammates.”
Although Coffin is a leading basketball scorer and collected six soccer goals from her sweeper position, she excels on defense. Less glamorous than scoring, defense presents Coffin with a more complete test of her abilities. “It’s underrated but it wins games. Whether I’m marking someone in soccer or basketball or lacrosse, my attitude is, ‘I’m going to shut you down.'” Coffin’s father, who played hoops with Julius Erving at UMass–Amherst and coached his daughter growing up, taught Meg that defense was the greater challenge. “On defense,” he would say, “you can never have a bad day.”
But Coffin’s competitiveness, stresses Murphy, is of an entirely unselfish brand. “It’s all about the team for her,” he says. “She couldn’t care less about herself.” Which isn’t to say that Coffin pounds up and down the Alumni Gym court without needing a little help from her friends. “I get really nervous before games, but that’s probably why I play team sports,” she says. “If you’re a little too edgy, a teammate can just pull you in and say, ‘Let’s go. It’s time.’ I rely on my teammates so much, and I think a lot of them can rely on me. That give and take is what’s great about Bates — I’ve played with so many leaders who have helped me become a leader on the field or on the court.”
Needless to say, all of the above make Meg Coffin a coach’s dream. Make that two coaches’ dreams, in three sports. As a sophomore, following soccer and basketball seasons, Coffin, who is from Westford, Mass., decided to play lacrosse for the first time since her pre-college days at Andover. “While her skills were a little bit rusty, all the rest of it more than made up for that,” says lacrosse head coach Wynn Hohlt. “She scored three goals against Bowdoin, one of the top teams in the country. They had no answer for her.”
Around 600 of the 1,700 Bates students play varsity sports. Of this total, about 75 are three-sport athletes, mostly distance runners who compete in cross country and indoor and outdoor track. Fewer than 10 play three team sports. Still, Bates athletic director Suzanne Coffey hopes that Coffin can be more of an exemplar than exception. “Meg is a terrific example of something NCAA Division III and NESCAC must work hard to protect,” she says. “The opportunity for talented men and women to get a great education while continuing to participate in multiple sports should be the expectation, not the exception.”
While there’s no slowdown in the trend toward sports specialization or the allure of schools that, unlike Bates, offer athletic scholarships, Murphy believes he can still recruit Division I–caliber athletes like Coffin by offering athletic, academic, and social diversity. For that reason, Murphy believes, Division I would not have been a good fit for Coffin. “She’s got too many varied interests,” he says. “The idea of being able to play more than one sport was very important to her.”
To Coffin, though, picking up a spring sport last year was less about high ideals and more about combating boredom. “I didn’t know what to do with myself when four o’clock rolled around” in the spring, she says. “[Sports] just sets up an everyday schedule, and my grades are better. So it seemed natural to just keep playing.”
Plus, as an English major with a 3.25 grade point average, Coffin likes how sports and academics complement each other. “In the same sense that you don’t play sports just to get awards, I’m not really a student just to get straight A’s,” she says. “I think the college experience is about testing yourself in a lot of different ways. Sports challenges me and my team in big games, like a NESCAC championship against Bowdoin, where it’s do or die.”
She plays skillfully, intelligently, aggressively, unselfishly.
Out of the Pool After 18 years as head men’s and women’s swimming and diving coach, Dana Mulholland will step away from the deck at Tarbell Pool after this season. He will remain in his role as associate athletic director. A two-time New England Division III women’s swim Coach of the Year, Mulholland has guided five men and women to 15 All-America honors since starting at Bates in 1988. Four divers have earned 16 All-America honors under the direction of Mulholland and longtime diving coach, Mike Bartley. “Dana has been a successful and much-loved coach, and swimming and diving alumni will find it hard to believe that their mentor and friend is stepping away,” said Athletic Director Suzanne Coffey.
Squash on the Road Ricky Weisskopf ’08, Bates’ first-ever squash All-American, competed for his home country, El Salvador, in the Pan Am Federation Cup squash championships in the fall, making it to the round of 16 in singles and winning a silver medal in doubles. It wasn’t Weisskopf’s first international competition — he has played for the national team since age 16 — but it was the first time a competition was followed by an all-night bus trip from New York to Lewiston so he could make it back for a lab. “I was just dazed, so tired,” he said later that week. “But I’m still excited.”