VanKirk is no stranger to Eagles, winning games
By GREG AUMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2001
SPRING HILL -- Forgive Evelene VanKirk for not waiting until next fall to get started on her new job.
By the time the Springstead girls basketball team gets to its first practice in November, the players will have a full season of experience under their new head coach.
VanKirk, 28, an assistant for last year's squad, has a busy summer planned -- a team camp at the University of South Florida, a two-day tournament in Crystal River and a 28-game league in Pasco County.
"To come into a program that has six seniors who have played together all three years, who are excited about playing basketball, who are willing to work hard, it's a good position to be in as a first-year coach," VanKirk said.
The Eagles are taking a program with one winning season in 25 years and turning it over to a coach who has been to the state final four twice as a player and again as an assistant coach.
"She's a great addition to our athletic program," athletic director Bob Levija said. "She's a professional, and that's what we need. Our girls program is lacking, and she's the kind of coach we want."
VanKirk takes over for Whit Campbell, who is taking a year off from coaching as he moves from the school's ROTC program to its history department. Campbell said he supported the move and expects good things from VanKirk.
"I think she'll do well," Campbell said. "There's a need for aggressive young women to take these positions. There's not enough of them."
Campbell, a retired Air Force pilot, said the players will work well with VanKirk -- not only because she is closer to their age, but because she is a woman.
"There's a lot more than just X's and O's to this," he said. "As much as I love those kids, I can't exactly sit down and talk to them about growing into young women."
VanKirk, too, said she would like to see more women coaching girls teams, and she hopes her guidance can extend beyond drills and plays.
"I want to be more than a coach," VanKirk said. "The coaches in my life taught me a lot of other stuff besides volleyball, basketball and softball. They taught me about character, about hard work, how to make right decisions. The girls aren't afraid to approach me because I'm young and can relate a little bit. I'll hate to see when that changes, actually."
Springstead graduated five seniors who saw significant minutes. But it returns an experienced group of juniors, led by last year's top scorer, Roe Finlayson.
"We have to do the little things right, and winning will take care of itself," VanKirk said. "I'm not going to measure my success as a coach on our win-loss record."
VanKirk has been a head basketball coach before. During her senior year at Florida Christian College in Kissimmee, she served as women's coach. She had been named the girls coach at St. Cloud High School last summer before moving to Spring Hill when her fiance, Scott Bennett, accepted the boys basketball job at Springstead.
The two will be married July 10, so by the time practice begins, the Eagles will have two Coach Bennetts on the hardwood. Like her soon-to-be spouse, VanKirk wants to showcase a more athletic, defensive-minded team, and she said that progress begins with a good work ethic.
"There's a quote that says, 'There's someone practicing harder today to beat you tomorrow,' " VanKirk said. "I want our team to be that team that's practicing harder."
VanKirk has high school experience coaching volleyball and softball. She was Springstead's junior varsity softball coach this spring. In the fall, VanKirk will take up another sport as the girls golf coach.
The two sports are at opposite ends of the spectrum -- one fast-paced and frenetic, the other quiet and collected. VanKirk hopes to benefit from a little of both next season.
"It'll be a new angle having a basketball coach who's very intense trying to relax during a golf match," she said. "I think that's why I'm going to enjoy golf. It's going to force me to relax and have a little bit of fun."
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