By Carlos Toro
New Rider softball Head Coach Jaclyn Timko’s life changed in her final collegiate softball game on May 12, 2012, in a 12-inning game against Quinnipiac at the NEC Tournament.
It was supposed to be a fairytale ending to one of the most impressive careers in Robert Morris softball history. Her career .359 batting average is the highest in school history and Timko is the team’s all-time leader with 130 runs scored. She ranked second in career hits with 201 and 27 home runs and fourth in career RBIs with 92.
She could have won and advanced in the tournament, but despite a multi-hit game, the team lost, and her softball-playing career was over.
“When I walked off the field, I thought, ‘I’m not done. I can’t leave softball on these terms,’” Timko recalled. “I went to my head coach and asked if there were any graduate assistant spots available and he said yes.”
Now at Rider, Timko replaces former head coach Tricia Carroll, who was a part of the program for more than two decades. Caroll resigned in November after filing a lawsuit against Rider University, claiming that the school was in violation of Title IX.
Coaching was not something Timko originally thought of doing. She attended Robert Morris to become a sports psychologist, but softball became much more important in her life.
After the game, Timko reflected on her career and decided that even though her playing days were over, her softball chapter was far from a conclusion.
“I saw the job posting and I automatically thought, ‘I have to apply for this job,’” Timko said. “It was kind of a crapshoot, leaving the comfort of my job and my team to take a risk and take a gamble. But as soon as Rider knew more about me and my background, I was one of three candidates. I had to really fight for it.”
Senior first baseman Dana Sensi notes that there are differences between the two coaches and that it is something the team will have to adjust to.
“I think each and every coach differs from one another so when a new coach comes into a team, differences are always going to be there,” Sensi said. “Coach Timko has had a very impressive background in softball throughout her career. She is very young and it has not been in our shoes as a collegiate athlete and student.”
Even though Timko is now a coach, she still has the urge to be a part of the activities and exercise during practice. She isn’t a coach who barks out orders as she watches her players practice and conduct drills; instead, she joins them, looking more the part of a player.
Timko says that even though she enjoys participating in practice alongside her players, she admits to her coaches that she gets physicaly sore after practice. But she also says that it is a great feeling as well.
“I’m a very hands-on coach,” Timko said. “One of the things that I didn’t appreciate as a player is that whenever a coach would tell me to do something, I needed to see it. That’s the kind of thing that I have taken to myself to be really involved.”
She says that she does this just so that players are able to better understand what Timko is trying to communicate.
“A big thing for the team is open communication,” Timko said. “I’m a very vocal coach. I don’t want the players to try and guess what I’m thinking and I’m vocal in that sense of ‘this is what I want and this is how I want it done.’”
But she also learned that coaching mistakes are a much harder pill to swallow than player mistakes. Timko says that is something that she has had to adjust to in her young coaching career.
“I think the biggest thing I learned from coaching is that as a player, whenever you have a loss, you find a way to battle with that, but as a coach, that is something that stays with you longer,” Timko explained. “You try to go through so many things to see if you could have done something different for us to win. Losing is a little more sour. It takes me a little longer to get over because I don’t have any physical control over what is going in the games.”
After Timko finished her playing career, she spent the following two years as a graduate assistant at Robert Morris and learned from more experienced coaches there — something that she says helped her to rise quickly through the coaching ranks.
As an assistant, Timko helped Robert Morris to a combined 54-42-1 record in 2013 and 2014. Timko then moved on to become the head coach of a Division III softball team at New Jersey City University for the 2015 season.
Her first year as a head coach did not yield great results as the team’s record was 5-33 in 2015. Timko said that although the record wasn’t a good one, she used it as a learning experience for what will be her biggest coaching challenge yet at Rider.
“My time at New Jersey City University was a big learning stage of my career,” Timko said. “I got to learn the ins and outs of the administration side. I learned how to manage my own assistants, got to experience things that worked, such as softball — related drills, techniques and the administration side of things like budgeting and scheduling.”
She applied for the vacant head coach position at Rider and was announced as the new coach on Jan. 5.
The 25-year-old coach admitted that because of age, she had to mature a lot more and work harder just to be taken seriously. She does try to be positive while, at the same time, finding that fine line of structure and balance that is needed for a team to succeed.
Timko arrived to a team that won only 12 games last season, improving by just six wins from the year before. One of the first things that Timko did when she arrived at Rider was meet with the team and players individually in order to get a jump on the season.
While Carroll won three conference titles from 1995-2003, the team has hit a nine-year roadblock that includes no postseason tournament appearances and a 110-320-2 record since 2007.
She is encouraged by the team’s spirit, but admitted that some of the players did not have the heart and the love of the game anymore. After a few practices with the team, she noticed that players have bought into her message and that practices have been fun for both sides.
Senior third baseman Emily Cottrell thinks that Timko’s presence revitalized the team and that it is in better spirits.
“The team is definitely excited for this change, I can already tell that there is a change in attitude,” Cottrell said. “I am personally excited to see how this season goes. I think with the energy and motivation that we are getting from the coaching staff and the hard work and determination from myself and my teammates, we can definitely have a great season.”
As far as goals are concerned, there is not a set number of wins that Timko is looking for this season. More importantly, she would like to create an environment where the players feel happy that they are playing the game.
“Our mission this year is to change the culture and get the team headed in the right direction,” Timko said. “It’s all about building the structure right now. It doesn’t come down to the technicalities of softball, but it comes down to these girls as individuals and believing in themselves.”
Timko says that success will depend on the players’ efforts. If they remain focused and approach every day with the right attitude, then the Broncs can have a successful season.
“We didn’t make any of those goals just yet,” Timko said. “When I took this job, I wasn’t going to guarantee the players a specific amount of wins. That’s up for the players to decide. Our goals right now are effort and attitude. Every single day, no matter what we do, whenever we put on a Rider uniform, it’s all about giving 100 percent of your attitude.”
Despite Timko entering her fourth year as a coach, she has already learned a lot about the profession and even offered advice for anyone who aspires to her career, no matter what the sport.
“Anyone that wants to become a head coach, the best thing to do is go through the ranks,” Timko said. “You learn different coaching styles, drills and get exposed into so many different surroundings. That is a really good thing to have under your belt. It helps me now because knowing different formulas of how people have done things is good to know when I’m trying to figure what works best. It is a really unique experience when you do find out what works best.”
Timko had to make some adjustments for herself and learn that she is taking a managerial role instead of an active role that a player would have.
“It was a little bit of change going from no longer doing the action to just telling people what to do,” Timko said. “Once I got over that, I think I found my niche. I love going through the process of whenever something clicks for someone and to have that light bulb effect on someone. It’s not so much wins and losses for me, but those little milestones are the things that I really enjoy.”
Ever since she became a coach, she realized the immense workload that the position carries is a lot more than what people realize. Timko said that she has had to become more social because she is constantly talking to people and potential recruits.
While she loves coaching and remaining a part of softball, she admits that the job can be very tiring.
“Most people don’t realize that coaching is not just about showing up at games and practices,” Timko said. “You kind of have to be a people’s person. I get a ton of emails from recruits, I’m out there recruiting and constantly talking to other coaches, even alumni. A lot of people don’t realize, that even when I leave the office or when I leave the field, my work is not done. I’ll be working until I go to bed.”
Overall, she is happy to be at Rider and is excited to have the opportunity to be a head coach at a Division I school for the first time in her career.
“It’s kind of surreal, being a former Division I player and then coaching at different levels,” Timko said. “To be back at coaching at Division I, I feel like I am back home. I’m really excited for this season and to get out there and compete. The MAAC is great and I’m familiar with this conference. To be a part of this group and to be a part of that Division I culture, I’m excited to take the challenge on.”