Evanston Township High School has added three new head coaches of girls teams in the last six weeks: Brittanny Johnson – basketball, Mallory Thelander – volleyball, and Stacy Salgado – soccer.
Evanston Athletic Director Chris Livatino said he is excited about the long-term prospects for all three women.
“I’m excited about Brittanny’s hiring because she’s played at an extremely high level (at Fenwick High School and Boston College). She comes from a winning high school program and she understands what it takes to succeed at that level. She turned around the program at Kennedy-King in a short amount of time, and she was a brilliant student-athlete who has already demonstrated her leadership skills.
“As far as Mallory goes, it’s awesome to have a former Evanston athlete return to the program. I coached Mallory in high school and she was a very intense player, a hard-working kid. I expect she’ll be that same type of leader now. She’s very passionate about building our program up and she’s already worked in a program (at Loyola Academy, where she’s a math teacher) that has achieved some success (4th in the State in 2014).”
“Coach Salgado understands what it takes to be a successful female soccer player in Evanston, from youth through college (University of Wisconsin),” said Mr. Livatino. “She’s played the game at the highest level in college, and helped Coach Grillo lead our high school program to its most successful season since the State championship she won as a player in 2002.”
Mallory Thelander – Volleyball
Coach Thelander is a 2006 ETHS graduate who earned four varsity volleyball letters at Augustana College in Rock Island. She was a second-team all-conference selection in 2007 and was named to three different all-tournament teams during her college career. She also received all-conference academic recognition her final three seasons with the Vikings.
Coach Thelander has served as an assistant high school coach at De La Salle, Loyola and Evanston. She worked with former Wildkit head coach Pam MacPherson, who stepped down after 10 years at the helm, as a varsity assistant during the 2013 season and has also coached in the boys program at ETHS.
“I remember one day at practice Pam mentioned to me that some day you’re going to be the next Evanston coach, and I thought she was crazy,” Coach Thelander recalled. “Ever since I graduated I’ve wanted to come back, and this is an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I want to make it very clear that I bleed Orange and Blue, just like Coach Livatino did back when he was coaching me. It’s always been a goal of mine to be a head coach, and once the opportunity arose I knew I couldn’t ask for a better place to be.”
Coach Thelander will inherit a team that must rebuild after graduating every starter, and a total of seven seniors overall, from a varsity squad that finished 16-20 in MacPherson’s final season. She said she plans to lean on the experience of the current varsity staff, including boys head coach Mike McDermott, in an effort to take the program to the next level.
She also plans to promote the sport within the community to help keep Evanston’s participation numbers at a competitive level.
“I want to get my face out there to the middle schools. It’s important to get to those kids when they’re young and making the right connections, getting them to buy into the Evanston volleyball tradition. I’d also like to get some of our alums involved back in the program, to help motivate the girls and show them what the program can be like,” Thelander added. “There are so many things I want to achieve here.”
Brittanny Johnson – basketball
That’s the kind of passion that Johnson plans to bring to the basketball program for a team that should be ranked in the top 10 in the State of Illinois. All five starters, including career leading scorer Leighah-Amori Wool, are returning from a team that compiled a 23-6 won-loss record and bowed to Trinity in the sectional tournament semifinals.
Coach Johnson herself was an All-State basketball player at Fenwick (Class of 2005) who attended Boston College but saw her playing career prematurely come to an end when she suffered a torn ACL that required three separate surgeries.
She served as team captain at Boston College for three years and, despite the injury, did have some opportunities to play overseas after graduation.
“That injury really did change my career,” Coach Johnson recalled. “Minus that injury, I definitely could have had a professional (playing) career. But I don’t regret it because it launched me into my coaching career.
“I played for a great coach at Fenwick (Dave Power) and the coaches helped me develop so much after I came to BC as just another skinny kid. I had to get better every year, and that’s what I’m looking forward to at Evanston. My hope is that every single person who comes into the program will get better every year. It’s not easy, but every single program I’ve been part of that’s been a success has had that happen because we worked super hard.”
At Kennedy-King, Johnson turned around a program that was 3-21 under the previous staff to a nationally-recognized junior college program with a two-year record of 41-12. That included two straight conference championships.
“It’s hard for me to leave Kennedy-King because we had started to build something there,” Johnson said. “You scratch the surface a little working with those players, and they’re gone after a couple of years.
“What I love most about coaching is the skill development, watching a freshman or a sophomore grow and become the best player as a senior.
“I know there are expectations for next year (at ETHS) but I don’t think about the pressure at all. My goal is to add value to what’s already there. We’ll do whatever we can to meet those expectations.”
Stacy Salgado – Soccer
Coach Salgado worked closely with Coach Maurizio Grillo over the past two years to re-create a championship culture in the ETHS girls soccer program. The Wildkits finished 20-4-3 in Coach Grillo’s final year as head coach, including a Central Suburban League South division championship.
Now it’s up to Salgado to continue that work as Grillo’s successor.
“I have high expectations for us to enjoy success year in and year out,” said Coach Salgado, who is regarded as one of the top midfielders in school history and was a starter on Evanston’s 2002 State championship team. “With the various feeder and club programs providing quality instruction to our community, many of our girls come in to the program with a high level of skill.
“We should be in the conversation for conference titles, regional titles, and there is no reason why we can’t advance far in the State tournament.”
Despite a solid post-high school playing career – she played on a national championship team with the Eclipse Club and was a member of Wisconsin’s Big 10 Tournament championship team in 2005 – Coach Salgado did not expect to follow a life path that included coaching. She taught in Chile for two years, from 2010 and 2011, and returned to the Evanston community because that is where she wanted to raise her family.
A “cold call” from Coach Grillo, who had an opening on his staff after his second season with the Wildkits, changed that path.
“Without a doubt she’s been exposed to great coaches,” said Coach Grillo. “The drills she put together for us in practice were incredible, very well designed, and she definitely has a knowledge of the game. But the biggest strength she conveyed to me and to the girls was a healthy degree of competitiveness. She has a way of keeping a perfect balance between wanting to win and making losing into a learning experience, not a drama. I’ve never been exposed to a healthier way to compete.”
“Coach Grillo and I worked together these past 2 years to institute a new culture and instill a belief in our capabilities and potential, so I’m not looking to make huge changes in the program. On the other hand, I do have some different ideas and things won’t be exactly the same as I plan to put my own stamp and face to the program,” said Coach Salgado. “I’m so excited to see how passionate some of the younger players are. We have some really great talent coming up, and I’m excited about the future.”