Women’s hockey coach named league’s best

	<p>Courtesy Photo / <span class=GVSU Women’s Hockey
GVSU women’s hockey coach Cory Whitaker was named American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division I Coach of the Year.

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Courtesy Photo / GVSU Women’s Hockey
GVSU women’s hockey coach Cory Whitaker was named American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division I Coach of the Year.

Curtis Kalleward

After leading his team to a No. 4 ranking and a berth in the national championship tournament, Grand Valley State University women’s hockey head coach Cory Whitaker has been named the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division I Coach of the Year.

Whitaker, who has been at the team’s helm since he helped form the program in 2007, will be presented with the award during an April 30 ceremony in Naples, Fla.

“It’s an honor, but it’s not just me,” he said. “If the players don’t believe what you’re coaching, it’s hard to have success. It’s the players who really make us successful because of their hours in the gym and their hours skating. Those are all things that I don’t do that still make this program successful.”

Perhaps more astounding than the team’s accomplishments is the turnaround experienced in just the program’s first few seasons. The team posted a 21-13-2 record in 2009, a complete opposite of 2007’s 1-20-0 finish.

“It was definitely a challenge overcoming that first year, but it was a learning experience as well,” Whitaker said. “Recruiting was a big factor in us improving. I honed in on players at the middle talent level because I knew that they were the ones who were really listening. I knew I didn’t have a chance with the really high ones because they weren’t willing to help us build a program.”

Whitaker’s perseverance to create an immediately competitive team was a reason why ACHA coaches honored him with the distinction.

“One of the things he does well is his 100 percent dedication to the girls in the program,” said GVSU assistant coach Darrell Gregorio. “From day one, it’s been nothing but, ‘How can I make this program bigger and better?’ That was our focus from the beginning, to build something from nothing into what it is now.”

Along with immediate playing time available that other schools could not offer, Whitaker said GVSU’s prestige and administration played big roles in bringing two stellar recruitment classes to Allendale.

“Not many institutions can offer you the same things they do here and still offer women’s hockey,” he said. “(GVSU Director of Student Life and Services) Bob Stoll and Grand Valley have given us great support from day one.”

A GVSU graduate and former all-conference goaltender on the men’s hockey team, Whitaker is joined behind the bench by fellow GVSU alumni Gregorio, Tom Hofman and Sean McKernan. McKernan, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees as a Laker.

“When you can preach that you’re a direct result of the school and the program that you’re talking about, you have an advantage,” Whitaker said. “Parents especially like it. The kids don’t usually think that far into the future, but there’s a trust factor from the parent.”

Junior forward Lynn Loechli transferred to GVSU before the 2009 season and said the homegrown connection played a part in her relocation.

“Knowing that the entire coaching staff is all alumni showed me that our coaches are very dedicated to our school,” she said. “They wanted to show that Grand Valley is a great school academically too, not just in hockey.”

Through all the ups and downs, good times and bad, Whitaker has turned a newborn into a superstar in just three seasons.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” Whitaker said. “I always tell the players that the view from atop the mountain is going to be so much more wonderful knowing how hard you had to work to get there. This award is my mountain.”

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