When we eventually get back to playing some games around here, there should be plenty of focus on the Lackawanna College Student Union on nights when the Lady Falcons take to the volleyball court. Because Jamie Brann might be the area’s most interesting coach.
When Lackawanna announced it hired Brann to lead the women’s volleyball program, it should have raised some eyebrows among anyone at all familiar with the local college sports scene. Brann, after all, finished second among Lady Falcons in kills.
And that was last season. Which, it should be added, was really her only season playing volleyball since early in her high school career.
She was also a key reserve forward on the Lady Falcons basketball team, averaging 4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore. Lackawanna athletic director Joya Whittington actually hired Brann as a head coach 87 days after her last game as a student-athlete and a full three months before she’ll even turn 21.
“When she offered me the job, I was like, ‘Wow, do I feel like I need to get a year of experience in?’ ” Brann laughed. “But this is super exciting. I’m really ready to develop, and I already have such great guidance from coach Joya, and all the coaches around, the staff and faculty, it’s amazing. There’s so much guidance around at Lackawanna. I think it’s going to be great.”
For sure, though, many might assess the logistics and consider it somewhat of a gamble on Lackawanna’s part.
After all, they’re replacing an area coaching legend — veteran Bob Fitzsimmons, who has coached several different sports at several area colleges — with someone several years away from being able to rent a car. But for Whittington, it’s an arrangement that makes good sense.
She knows Brann as well as anybody. Brann came to Lackawanna to play for Whittington on the basketball team, and players who assume the role she did tend to become favorites among coaches. She had no problem coming off the bench. If she needed to score points, she could. If she was asked to rebound, she rebounded. Just as importantly, on a team loaded with sophomore stars, Brann also was a respected leader. Everyone around her seemed to know coaching was in her future.
At Lackawanna, most coaches assume part-time positions, and typically, they have full-time jobs away from the college. Brann found that out herself last year, when she joined the team essentially after watching a match during her freshman year on campus and thinking that it might be fun to try to join the team. Not only did she make it onto the roster, she became the team’s immediate go-to leader. When the team needed to organize a meeting, she organized it. When players needed something, they went to her. She felt like a coach.
And when the job opened up, she applied for it. Not because she didn’t have opportunities to continue her basketball career elsewhere, but because coaching in a much more real way is what she came to Lackawanna to pursue.
“You have a lot of student-athletes who come in, and they’re just really looking to move on. Usually, they identify themselves with their next institution,” Whittington said. “Jamie, you could just see, is a Falcon through and through. She just naturally assumes a leadership role. She just carries herself in that way. She’s mature in that way.
“When we posted the job and she expressed interest, we really just sat there and said, ‘Why not? Why not give this woman a chance to develop here with us, let us be her mentors, let us kickstart her career?’ ”
Brann doesn’t want to envision life without sports. She grew up about as far away from Scranton and still in the continental United States, in the small city of Twentynine Palms, California, just north of Joshua Tree National Park and only a few hours drive from the Mexican border. Sports were a way of life there, a way to stay busy and out of trouble, and she played everything. She needed a lot of help to do so. Rides to games. Extra help when the competition got difficult. Coaches weren’t just the people with the whistles and gameplans to Brann; they were inspirations, role models, a path out of a difficult place.
“I like to help a lot. I like to give,” she said. “To be in a coaching position, it’s like I’m able to do that for real. I’m able to say that I can give you a spot on the team. I can give you a place to sleep. It’s something I’ve always had in my life.
“My coaches would do anything for me. That’s what I want to be. Some kids have it bad at home; the only time they have fun is when they are at practice, when they’re around kids their own age. It’s just what I want to do. I want to improve on peoples’ lives and impact them.”
Was hiring a 20-year-old to lead a program a roll of the dice for Lackawanna? Maybe, on paper.
In reality, it’s more a bet on Jamie Brann’s view on life and sports. And that’s something worth wanting on your side.
Donnie Collins has been a member of The Times-Tribune sports staff for nearly 20 years and has been the Penn State football beat writer for Times-Shamrock Newspapers since 2004. The Penn State Football Blog covers Nittany Lions, Big Ten and big-time college football news from Beaver Stadium to the practice field, the bowl game to National Letter of Intent Signing Day. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5368; @DonnieCollinsTT