Of Swarthmore’s varsity coaches, three of the most accomplished athletes are women’s lacrosse coach Karen Borbee, field hockey coach Lauren Fuchs, and softball coach Renee Clarke. Both Borbee and Fuchs earned All-American honors in their collegiate careers, at the University of Delaware and University of Connecticut respectively, and all three represented the United States in international competition.
The Daily Gazette’s Emily Bryant ’12 sat down with these three extraordinary women and what followed were three enlightening conversations on coaching, sports, Swarthmore and life.
Beginnings with a Rival
The first coach out of the trio who came to Swarthmore was Karen Borbee, a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, who joined the faculty in 1990 as a women’s soccer and basketball coach.
Prior to arriving at Swarthmore, she taught mathematics at Strath Haven High School just two miles from the College while coaching field hockey and lacrosse. Then, she saw an assistant basketball coach opening at Haverford.
“Previously, I never had any experience with a Division III institution. I went to the University of Delaware. This [Haverford] was my first experience and I loved it,” said Borbee. “I loved the type of student-athlete that I coached at Haverford. Then I got really lucky and the basketball position opened at Swarthmore.”
Borbee coached women’s soccer and basketball for two years before she made the move to lacrosse. She served as the head coach for both basketball and lacrosse for six years.
“It was very challenging since they overlapped. Things were also a little different back then. The amount of recruiting that we had to do was not what it is today. It was possible to be the head coach of two programs. In fact, everybody was,” said Borbee.
Eventually the head coaching position for field hockey opened up and Borbee made the transition to head field hockey coach while remaining the head lacrosse coach. She coached both for six years and then set field hockey aside to focus solely on lacrosse, a common move at the time in Division III athletics.
An Early Start
Coach Renee Clarke took a different route to Swarthmore. As a twenty-three year old, she jumped right into collegiate coaching and became the head coach at Kean University for both the field hockey and softball teams. Along with her athletic accomplishments on the softball field, Clarke also holds the Rutgers University field hockey records for career saves, saves in a season, and is a member of the Rutgers Hall of Fame.
She coached both teams at Kean for ten years, becoming the winningest coach in Kean softball history, and then decided to transition to Division I coaching.
“All of my peers were leaving to go to Division I. Friends my age who I deemed to be of like skill and talent coaching-wise. So I thought that I should make that jump to Division I as well and then the Drexel job opened up,” she noted.
Despite a significant pay cut, Clarke took the opportunity to come back home to Pennsylvania and coach Division I softball at Drexel University as the team’s head coach.
“I stayed for three years and realized during those three years that philosophically I was a Division III coach. [I realized that] healthy balance was extremely important to me,” she said.
She took a year off to teach special education, and when the job at Swarthmore opened, she applied right away.
“It was the best thing I have ever done – hands down.”
A Wealth of Experience
Coach Lauren Fuchs was heavily involved in Division I coaching prior to her arrival at Swarthmore, noting that despite her career in coaching, she wonders how she might have changed her academic career.
“There were a few things I would have changed. I majored in physical education because I wanted to be a coach but I didn’t realize that I didn’t have to be a phys-ed major. I was really strong in math and in the sciences so I might have done something different,” she said.
After she graduated, she served as a field hockey assistant at UConn and did some teaching in the Storrs area but decided that she was better suited for coaching.
Fuchs became an assistant field hockey coach at the University of New Hampshire and Northeastern University and then became the head coach at Temple University in 1993. She left in 2004 to become the head coach at the University of Maryland – Baltimore County.
“I went to UMBC and they shut down their program [the next year]. I basically just got there when they decided to drop the program,” she said.
It was Coach Clarke, who describes taking a reverse-chip shot straight to the facemask from one of Fuchs’s sisters during their collegiate playing days, who encouraged Fuchs to apply for the associate field hockey coaching job at Swarthmore. She served in that role for one year.
“I loved the kids,” she said. “They were hard workers and wanted to learn and get better and better. I’ve coached at all levels […] and to me it doesn’t matter what level you are coaching at, coaching is coaching.”
The next year she became head coach of the team and hasn’t looked back.
Making the Transition
Each of the three coaches reflected on some of the differences and challenges that they faced when transitioning from their previous coaching jobs to Swarthmore.
“At a place like Swarthmore, there is such a huge variance of athletic experience from high school,” said Borbee.
Although Division I jobs were available along the way, Borbee has always felt that Swarthmore was where she belonged.
Coach Fuchs also spoke of some of the challenges she faced when she started coaching at Swarthmore.
“The biggest thing that was different from Division I was the recruiting. At a Division I school you can entice players with scholarships and get earlier commitments,” she said. “At Swarthmore, players are coming primarily for the education and hockey is secondary. You are working with a different pool of athletes.”
She also talked about the difference in coaching staff size between Division I and Division III.
“One thing that was nice about Division I is that coaches were able to have full time assistants. It just allows you to have more help with what you are doing,” said Fuchs.
Clarke shared similar sentiments. One thing that she misses about Division I is the opportunity to spend time with her players throughout the entire academic year.
“I wish we could spend even one hour in the week during the off season with our players to work on skill development. It also allows you to get them to know you better,” she said. “I really enjoy helping players realize their potential.”
But she is now at home in Division III. She also mused on her playing career and that of the other coaches.
“I think that all three of our [Division I college] experiences were more akin to Division III experiences today. We all might have traveled more […] but we definitely played fewer games than the number played in Division I today.”
The Life of the Mind
Even in Coach Borbee’s first years as a coach at Swarthmore, when she lost many games as a basketball coach, she admired her athletes immensely.
“What I loved about this place was the student-athlete – their heart, determination, and desire to compete were just as strong as they were from players at any Division I school that I was ever associated with,” Borbee said.
“The players were always striving to get better and I just respected that,” she said. “They would show up every day at practice ready to go and always wanting to improve. That was twenty-one years ago. I just couldn’t imagine coaching any other type of student-athlete.”
All three coaches agreed that they deeply enjoy the teaching component of their jobs – both the teaching of their players and the teaching of physical education classes.
“I enjoy helping an athlete reach their potential, not helping them get just a little bit better. I really enjoy instructing,” Borbee said. “I agree with that [the College’s] philosophy – you play sports to learn. This is where I felt my philosophical strengths lie.”
Clarke and Fuchs also mentioned that they are extremely committed to the Division III values. Each of the three coaches has profound ideological commitments and wants to help their student-athletes strike a life balance.
Although Borbee, Fuchs, and Clarke are three of the most accomplished athletes among coaches at Swarthmore, they dismissed the idea that they should be considered role models for their playing careers.
“I think we’re role models more about life lessons like doing things the right way and having a balanced life. The fact of the matter is that you can’t think of sports or academics 24/7. We are about demonstrating how to treat people the right way – to me that is what we are teaching our student-athletes,” said Fuchs.
“As a coach, your wants and needs don’t really exist anymore. You strive to help your student-athletes. That is what a good coach’s true focus becomes,” said Clarke.
If people consider Coach Borbee a role model, she believes it should be “because I am a working mom: I am able to have a career, work hard and take seriously my professional life. It’s not because I won a world championship.”
“That is what I would like women to see. They can do what they want to do professionally and personally. I want to be a role model that says they have ups and downs. It wouldn’t be for what I achieved as a player. That looks nice in bio, but it doesn’t matter much,” she said.
The Perfect Fit
In 2010, the NCAA Division III adopted the new platform “Discover, dedicate, develop,” but Borbee, Fuchs and Clarke didn’t need a flashy motto to realize that their role as coaches centered on this identity. And while teaching student-athletes to dedicate themselves to their sport and education, coaching student-athletes to discover greater potential, and guiding student-athletes to develop as students, athletes, and women, they each did their own discovering, dedicating, and developing as Division III coaches and advocates.
They have each found that Swarthmore is the perfect fit for them.
Indeed, they are the perfect fit for Swarthmore.
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