To say that new Loyola Marymount Coach Charity Elliott’s new staff is like a family is a bit of an understatement.
Elliott, hired last April, starred at the former Southwest Missouri State, where she guided the team to its first Final Four 20 years ago. Assistant coach Tracey Wolff was a graduate assistant at SMS during Elliott’s sophomore year, before leaving to take another coaching job.
Assistant coach Alexis Mezzetta played for Elliott at the University of California San Diego, where Elliott coached for five seasons prior to coming to LMU. Mazetta became Elliott’s assistant coach upon graduating.
Former All-American and Wade Trophy winner Jackie Stiles is Elliott’s last assistant coach hire. She lead SMS to another Final Four in 2001, and both Elliott and Stiles were coached there by standout Cheryl Burnett.
Elliott said she hadn’t coached with Wolff or Stiles before, but the staff chemistry they’ve already developed is outstanding.
“We each bring a lot of experience, and the fact that three of us worked under Burnett means we all have the same philosophies of integrity and work ethic,” Elliott said. “We are all on the same page, and I’m excited to see how it’s all going to come together with the team.”
Elliott had a tall order to fill, taking over for former coach Julie Wilhoit, who was let go after 17 years in the position. The criticism of Wilhoit included the team’s declining record over the years, lack of attendance, her sideline demeanor with players and the apparent lack of team energy, especially later during the season.
Elliott wasted no time implementing her coaching philosophies when she took the job, which includes her main focus of improving the team. She said she will implement the only systems she’s ever taught: up-tempo running, pressing and trapping.
“The most important thing we can do is win,” she said. “We’ve got to take care of business on the floor and give fans a reason to come back. We’re going to give them the style of play that they love.”
The new coach is encouraging her team to embrace a forward-looking and joyful mind set.
“We’re just moving forward, and are not going to dwell on anything that might have been,” Elliott said. “We’re going to let our players play. We want them to enjoy it and have fun.”
NCAA regulations limit the amount of contact coaches have with players during the off-season, so Elliott has yet to work with the full squad. But through team meetings and permitted individual workouts, the picture is coming together. She said the talent she has to work with is obvious – from senior forward Alex Cowling to junior point guard Hazel Ramirez. The Lions are also a close team.
“At our first meeting I asked them about their chemistry, but it was also obvious to me,” Elliott said. “I told them, ‘all you have to do is let us in.'”
Elliott and company have also hit the recruiting trail hard this summer, emphasizing the quality of the school, the talent, the location and the experience of the coaching staff. The coach at Portland State University before going to UCSD, Elliott said she can teach to any demographic. The important thing for any athlete at LMU will be her willingness to work hard.
“I’m intense and I get excited, so practice will be intense,” Elliott said. “I”m unbiased, so we’re going to start from the beginning and learn. Everyone’s going to have to earn (playing time).”
“It’s about collectively coming together. You’re going to see someone excited on the sidelines – I’m the eternal optimist. But we all have to learn, and I will tell a recruit straight out: if you don’t want to be pushed, go somewhere else.”
Elliott is no stranger to challenges herself. She said she hadn’t considered leaving UCSD until the Loyola position became open. The more she learned about the job, the more appealing it became. Once hired, she went after her staff. She hit up Stiles, who has never coached at the college level, out of the blue.
“I texted her – she was living in Missouri at the time – and asked if she’d consider it,” Elliott said. “She said she would, but she’d have to think about it. Ever since she got here, she’s been fantastic.”
Practices begin the first week in October, and Elliott said she’s going to allow herself to be surprised.
“I’ve watched a little bit of film of them from last year, but I want everyone to start the same,” she said. “We’re starting brand new.”