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2002 > February
Alumna named head volleyball coach
Cora Thompson came across the country to Tufts from Half Moon Bay, Calif., in 1995 to play volleyball and softball for Head Coach Kris Talon. She wanted a new experience on the East Coast. Now, seven years later, that decision has become the best she ever made.
A 1999 Tufts graduate, Thompson has been named to succeed Talon as head coach of the volleyball team at Tufts. Talon, who coached the team for seven seasons, will continue to coach the softball team.
Thompson was Talon's graduate assistant coach in both sports for two seasons and stayed on board as an assistant this year after earning her master's degree in education last May. Both Thompson and Talon will have secondary assignments with the newly developing personalized fitness program within the athletic department.
Thompson has been a familiar face around the Tufts athletics department since her sophomore year. She worked in the office, stuffing envelopes, making copies, doing whatever the department secretaries asked. She was also a sophomore defensive specialist on Talon's 1996 volleyball team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
Thompson also played in three NCAA Tournaments as a four-year starter at shortstop on the softball team. Her experiences with both teams made her realize that she wanted to stay at Tufts. She already had an interest in coaching when she came to the university.
"Cora was a very intense athlete," said Talon, a 1986 Tufts graduate who also stayed as a graduate assistant coach after graduation. "She and I share an intensity. We think the same way, so we were able to operate well together. I gave her a lot of authority, asking her opinion, coaching together, planning practice. She loves Tufts, works hard and likes people, which is really important. We want kids to want to come to Tufts, and she does a great job promoting that to recruits."
Thompson feels she has a head start on the job after playing for and coaching with Talon.
"She's a big-wig," Thompson said. "She's involved in all the national committees and knows everyone. I got to meet and listen to the best coaches in the country just by tagging along with her. She coached me as much as she coached the kids. I was the luckiest assistant around."
Tufts has a successful record of hiring its former student-athletes as head coaches. Thompson is the ninth Tufts alum on the Jumbo staff. She joins baseball coach John Casey ('80), squash coach Doug Eng ('84), Talon ('86), fencing coach Jason Sachs ('93), women's soccer coach Martha Whiting ('93), hockey coach Brian Murphy ('95) and men's lacrosse coach Mike Daly ('95). Director of Athletics Bill Gehling, formerly the women's soccer coach, is a 1974 Tufts graduate.
"We've had a lot of success hiring Tufts grads," Gehling said. "Many of them have turned out to be among our best coaches. They have a loyalty to the school and an understanding of the challenges that face our student-athletes. Still, we didn't hire Cora simply because she went to Tufts. We hired her because of her demonstrated ability and her potential to be an outstanding addition to our staff."
"I won't try to be perfect at first," Thompson said. "I think once I'm with the team by myself, my coaching personality will develop. I can relate to the kids because I've been there. I know the challenges of Tufts academically. I know the classes, the professors and the sports. That's all an advantage to me starting out."
The volleyball team finished 20-12 and ranked eighth in New England this past season. Next year's team will be without annual all-star Jessica Stewart and all-around leader Megan Pitcavage, but a talented young group will be led by Amy Cronin and Emily Macy as the Cora Thompson era begins.
Talon, meanwhile, will be able to focus solely on the very successful softball team. She compiled a 125-92 record with the volleyball team and was the New England Small College Athletic Conference and New England Women's Volleyball Association Coach of the Year during the NCAA Tournament season.
"It's the best move for both programs, but I'll miss volleyball," Talon said. "If you're a coach, you're a coach. I'll miss the kids, trying to improve players, working on strategy. Now the kids on both teams will get full-time attention. Cora and I will be able to branch out to work clinics, have more of a presence in the community and work on professional development."
Paul Sweeney is Tufts' sports information director.