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Davis, California

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Column: Ploaching

UC Davis standouts Randi Schuler and Kim Conley have no reason to know each other.

Schuler played tennis, transferred to UC Davis after two years at Purdue and is studying English with hopes of going to medical school.

Conley ran cross country and track, was at UC Davis for five years and majored in exercise biology.

However, the two do have something in common.

Both Schulder and Conley decided to try their hand at ploaching – players who help coach their former teams after their eligibility runs out.

While both are currently in similar situations, Schuler and Conley had completely different routes in getting here.

Schuler, a Davis native, was originally recruited by coach Bill Maze, who’s been a mentor to her since she was in junior high.

Desiring a professional career, Schuler chose Purdue after Maze introduced her to the Boilermakers’ coaches.

“He’s too nice,” Schuler joked.

After two years at Purdue, coaching changes caused Schuler to transfer to UC Davis.

Similarly, Conley, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, decided to come back to help her former coach, Drew Wartenburg, with the cross country and track teams.

Conley is pursuing a career in running. Staying in Davis to help her old team is something she saw as the right opportunity to get things started.

“This opportunity was right for me to use the resources here at the university and to get my foot in the door,” Conley said.

Both Conley and Schuler have found coaching to be more difficult than expected.

“It’s surprisingly different,” Schuler said. “I’ve taken on a totally different role. The main focus is getting [the players] to do what they want. It’s trying to focus on how they work and what they need.”

The same goes for Conley.

“It’s probably the biggest challenge I’ve had,” Conley said. “It’s a lot easier with the younger folks because they already respected me as a captain last year. The biggest challenge has been with the fourth and fifth years who were friends for many more years than I’ve been coaching.”

While Conley and Schuler both hold similar temporary volunteer jobs, their differences continue to mount.

Once aspiring for a professional tennis career, everything changed for Schuler during her sophomore year. She is now looking toward a career in the medical field.

“After having [ankle reconstruction] surgery, I wasn’t sure how much I would be competing at that level anymore,” Schuler said. “I got away from only caring about tennis and put myself into school. My focus changed.”

Conley, on the other hand, is still very much pursuing a career in cross country running, something she decided during her junior season.

“At some point during my fourth year, I took the running to another level,” Conley said. “[From then on] I wanted to pursue running. I’m going to do cross country, have a track season and hopefully get picked up by a shoe company on my own.”

She will attempt to do this with the help of Wartenburg, who will train her while she’s still in Davis.

“There’s a limited window to chase the dream like she’s doing,” Wartenburg said. “You can’t decide after three or four years of graduate school or a career to go back to do it. The time to do it is immediately after you graduate. There was never a question she was going to keep running.”

Both Conley and Schuler now have potential career choices in mind. Neither will rule out the possibility of joining the coaching profession down the road, though.

“I’m taking next year off so I would like to stick around next year if Bill will let me,” Schuler said. “Beyond that, I really like coaching. If I don’t end up liking medical school or don’t want to pursue it as a career, [coaching] is a possibility for me because I really like tennis and I really like coaching. Doing this has let me realize that.”

“I knew one day I wanted to get into coaching,” Conley said. “This was a perfect situation where I could get my foot in the door in the coaching world but also pursue my own running.”

If by chance the two do end up in the coaching profession, their old coaches expect they will excel.

“Clearly [Randi] loves the game and she’s really insightful,” Maze said. “It’s not often that somebody right out of college knows that much about the game, but she does. I talked to her and said, ‘Maybe when you retire in 30 years you could be a coach.’ She would really love that.”

“The fact that this was a suitable fit for [Kim] – we were tickled to keep her and put her on staff,” Wartenburg said.

MAX ROSENBLUM made up the word “ploaching,” with the help of Maze. The patent is pending. Show him your word creativity at sports@theaggie.org.


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