Alumni return to coach at Dartmouth

by Saba Nejad | 10/2/17 2:10am

After devoting 20 or more hours a week to their sport during school, Dartmouth’s student-athletes can find it difficult to fill the gap left by sports once their college careers end. Many try to stay connected to their sports by joining club teams. Others go into coaching, and a small few return to the Big Green as assistants. For some of these coaches, Dartmouth is a stop in the road on a different journey. For others, it’s a more permanent home or a springboard to a coaching career elsewhere.

Jennie Cunningham ’17 was co-captain of the cross country team in 2016. She is now pursuing her bachelor’s degree from the Thayer School of Engineering and has decided to continuing her running career as a student assistant coach with the cross country and track teams. Cunningham said her recent experience with the team has helped her better connect to the women she now coaches.

“These women are some of my best friends and we have seen each other in all states of success and failure,” Cunningham said. “That makes it very comfortable to be around these amazing ladies and hopefully I can just be there to relate to whatever way they feel that day. So, it is just nice to be around them some more, offer support, laugh a lot and be around the sport that I love.”

Cunningham’s passion for cross country is just as strong a year after finishing her college career.

“I think running is the best sport there is,” she said. “It can basically be in your life forever. I don’t think I will run competitively very often but I will definitely keep running as long as my legs are still working.”

Though Cunningham says she has loved coaching so far, she does not plan to become a full-time coach after she leaves Dartmouth in March.

“Maybe sometime down the road I will coach a local high school team or something,” she said.

Mackenzie St. Onge ’17, an assistant coach for women’s rugby, was originally recruited to play ice hockey at Dartmouth. Following her senior season, she decided to take advantage of the opportunity to learn about rugby and explore a new sport. She was able to play with the team all season and fell in love with the sport and the welcoming environment of the team.

“I just really wanted to come back and take advantage of training at such a high level,” St. Onge said. “I was also a psych[ology] major and have always been interested in character development through sports.”

This experience has given her glimpse into the work required to coach a team of that size. Although coaching has always been something that interests her, for now she’s more interested in training for rugby and pursuing that in the future. 

Tim Wunderlich ’09 has been coaching in one way or another since he graduated. Wunderlich joined the Big Green track staff in the fall of 2014 and has been working with Dartmouth’s jumpers and multi-event athletes ever since. During his tenure at Dartmouth, he has produced eight Ivy League Champions and three All-Americans.

Wunderlich began competing in track and field as a freshman in high school and considers Dartmouth the place that gave him the opportunity to more fully develop. As a coach, he now trains 15 to 20 students per year and travels to meets with the team. He also works closely with men’s head coach Barry Harwick ’77 and women’s head coach Sandy Ford-Centonze, who were also his former coaches during his time as an athlete.

“[They] were actually the ones that hired me back,” Wunderlich said. “It’s a little surreal because you were an athlete and kind of looking up to them and now you’re a coach and a colleague of theirs and more of an equal.”

Now, Wunderlich has administrative responsibilities and coaches his athletes with considerable autonomy. As time passes, according to Wunderlich, he feels more like a peer with his former coaches.

There’s a tradition on the track and field team: If you win an Ivy League title, you get your picture taken and put on the wall. When Wunderlich was a Big Green athlete, the pictures hung on the wall in the weight room the team uses in Floren Varsity House.

“It means something to be on the wall and it gives everyone something to work for,” Wunderlich said. “You get a title. You’re immortalized on the wall.”

The pictures were taken down after the previous jumps coach retired, but Wunderlich made it his personal project to bring them back. They now hang in chronological order in the coaches’ office in Floren. Wunderlich’s photo can be seen just before the end of the line.

“My hours are long, but my job is a labor of love,” Wunderlich said. “Being able to share my passion with the younger generation of Dartmouth track and field athletes makes it all worth it.”