The Labour Day weekend will be pretty special for Guelph native Rachel Pollock.
She’s to guide the University of Louisiana Monroe War Hawks women’s varsity golf team into competition for the first time since becoming the team’s head coach early in the summer.
“It's definitely a surreal feeling having my own program,” she said on a Zoom call. “When I was appointed head coach, I was 26 years old, so being a head coach in a Division 1 program at 26 is just kind of a little bit mind-blowing. Having my own program and having my own team, girls that I coach and teach and am kind of a second Mom to in America, it's something I don't take lightly and I'm really honoured to have this privilege.”
The squad Pollock takes to the tournament on the holiday weekend, the first of five fall tournaments on ULM’s schedule, will be a truly international one as the team is comprised of players from throughout the world. There are players from Sweden, Austria, Zambia, France, Spain, Italy, India and her assistant coach is from New Zealand.
“Everyone speaks English,” she said, although that won’t be their first language. “We have very smart kids academically, so their English is very good. It's going to be a hard transition the first year for some student-athletes, but when you kind of just immerse yourself in English and being in America, you kind of pick it up pretty quick.”
The diverse nature of her squad is something Pollock feels fortunate to have.
“It's a really unique opportunity that a lot of coaches don't get,” she said. “A lot of the time you'll see maybe a couple on Internationals on each team, but normally no more than a 50/50 split. I think it's a really great opportunity because I can learn from them as much as they learn from me. We've got a couple of girls on their home country's respective national teams so they're bringing all these ideas and drills and performances and things from their own countries and I can learn from them just as much as they can learn from me. It's kind of a unique opportunity that not a lot of people get.”
She also gets the opportunity to make her competitive debut as a head coach at a tournament that her previous team – she was an assistant coach at Arkansas State for four years – competed at during her time with them.
“It'll be nice because it's a familiar territory,” Pollock said. “I coached there the last four years, so I know the golf course really well. I know ULM did play there last year so our returners will have the experience of playing there already so it's kind of familiar territory. There definitely still will be nerves being at a new program and the head coach, but I'm ready to go. I've been juiced up and anxious to get going since I accepted the position.”
Monroe is located in the north-east corner of Louisiana. It’s about an hour east of Shreveport, two and a half hours south of Little Rock., Ark., and four hours north of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. It’s also four hours from Dallas.
During her time at Arkansas State, Pollock was an assistant under another Canadian head coach and she also continued her education there after majoring in exercise science during four years at East Tennessee State University where she was a member of that school’s golf team.
“I was a graduate assistant and I earned my Masters degree in sports administration (at Arkansas State). That took me two years and after my second year I was promoted to full-time assistant and I got to work under M.J. Desbiens Shaw who was from Quebec,” Pollock said. “I was able to learn so much from her and she was very encouraging of me going off on my own and having the opportunity to work for myself in my own program.”
Pollock does plan on continuing to pursue her education while at ULM.
“I am pursuing a second Masters degree in exercise science,” she said. “It's something I started in my fourth year at Arkansas State and I only have three classes and a thesis left. I'd like to finish it, but I'd like to get my feet wet here first and kind of figure out what's going on here before I finish up that degree, but I do plan on finishing it and having two Masters degrees – hopefully in the next two years.”
Having wrapped up her own stint playing NCAA golf, Pollock knows she isn’t that much older than her players and that could be an advantage. She celebrated her 27th birthday her first week on the ULM campus.
“Not being too far in age from some of the players, I can completely understand what they're going through on a personal level,” she said. “I understand the balance of golf and school and social life. I think it's a really unique quality that these young head coaches that we're starting to see possess the ability to directly relate to the players.”
Being at a school in the southern U.S., trips back to Guelph have been pretty infrequent.
“I was home in July for the first time in almost two years,” Pollock said. “I surprised my parents. They didn't know I was coming home and they didn't think I could come home. I told them I had a summer class that I had to stay in Jonesboro, Ark., for and I was sitting on the front porch when my Mom came home from work one afternoon. I got them pretty good. I was able to be home for three weeks, mind you two of those were in quarantine, but I didn't care because I got to see my family.”
While attending East Tennessee State, Pollock regularly competed in tournament in Canada, finishing eighth in the Ontario women’s amateur championship tournament in 2015. However, her competitions have been few since then.
“It is one of my goals to start playing more,” she said. “Everyone laughs, but when you're in the golf industry, you don't get to play much golf anymore. I spend my mornings at the office kind of doing administrative stuff and then all afternoon and evening I'm at the golf course with the team. It doesn't leave too much time for personal golf and when I do have a day off, sometimes I do not want to be at the golf course, but
I still love playing and love competing. I need to get out more and I need to see what courses are around here and what I can do.”
First up, though, will be the tournament at Mobile where Arkansas State will be one of the other teams in the field.
“It is going to be funny seeing Arkansas State and my former players, but I'm excited for them,” she said. “I hope they play well and I wish them nothing but the best and I'm just excited to have my own team and my own program and watch us grow.
“I spent four years with some of those girls and you build relationships. Obviously I want nothing but the best for them and I hope they play great, but I hope we play one shot better.”