Nobody quite understands the rigors of a Lehigh student-athlete quite like those who lived it themselves.
For some Lehigh student-athletes-turned-coach, they’re easily able to relate to their players as they navigate life on South Mountain.
Assistant track and field coach Khayla Atte, ‘05, men’s cross country head coach Todd Etters, ‘02, and women’s soccer associate head coach Lauren Calabrese, ‘07, were all student-athletes at Lehigh.
While all three former student-athletes are now coaching their respective sport, this isn’t what they always planned.
“I did not pursue coaching,” Atte said. “It’s something that was never on my radar or that I gave consideration.”
Atte was an artist, musician and teacher before she coached.
One day, she was taking her then-18-month-old daughter for a walk when she just so happened to run into someone that would change her life.
Atte said she and her daughter were originally going to walk around the track with a friend, but there was track practice going on. Instead, they had to sit on the bleachers and watch.
Little did Atte know at the time how much this would change her life.
“(My friend), knowing that I ran track, says, ‘Oh, what are they doing right now?’ and I said, ‘Oh, (they are hurdler’s), they’re working on a lead leg drill,” Atte said.
Atte and her friend noticed there was a hurdler who didn’t seem to know how to do the drill.
“Well, that’s because his lead leg is not the problem, it’s his trail leg,” Atte said.
After getting the courage to go up to the coach and tell him what the athlete was doing wrong, the coach asked for her resume.
“You can’t challenge an athlete — a true athlete never dies,” Atte said.
Atte got her start in coaching at that same high school, William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. She started as an assistant before assuming the role of head coach for the women’s track and field team.
After four years as the head coach at William Penn Charter School and producing many Division 1 track stars, Atte got her opportunity to coach at the next level. And it came from a place extremely familiar to her: her alma mater.
While coaching at William Penn, Atte would communicate with coaches at Lehigh when she’d see them at Penn Relays, the most competitive track and field event in the country.
“It became a thing,” Atte said. “‘Hey, will you come coach over the summer with us at our summer camp?’ or ‘Hey, what would it take for us to get you up here to maybe coach?’”
After the sprint coach at Lehigh left, Atte was offered the job. She jumped at the opportunity.
Last season was her first year coaching. The position allows her to be what she wants — a teacher without restriction — and she’s a part of a program that is no stranger to having former student-athletes as coaches.
Former distance runner Todd Etters is the men’s cross country head Coach and an assistant coach for track and field. He took a more direct route to coaching, starting right after graduation, coaching in a part-time position before advancing to a permanent role.
“I started with the intention of just doing it part-time,” Etters said. “The more I went, the longer I did it and the more focused I became on doing what I love to do, and that was certainly coaching, and after three or four years, I was able to earn a position that was full-time.”
Etters has now been a coach at Lehigh for more than 17 years. He began volunteering the summer after he graduated in 2002, and stuck with it after doubting the possibilities of a career in coaching.
Etters said he didn’t even realize coaching was a career option until his senior year. He originally wanted to stick around because his girlfriend — now wife — was a year behind him and because he said it’s nice to contribute to something bigger than himself.
Lauren Calabrese, the associate head coach on the women’s soccer team, took a similar path.
She stayed around Lehigh after graduating in 2007, completing her two master’s degrees — one in English and the other in education. She then went on to teach and coach at the high school level before making the move up to college.
“When the current head coach approached me when the assistant position opened up, I was really interested in blending my interest in coaching at this level at this institution because I’m working with many bright, motivated women,” Calabrese said. “I really love being back in this environment.”
Calabrese’s tenure as a coach began in 2016, and she notices the differences in the program now compared to when she was a player here. Calabrese said the program was in the building process when she was playing, and now the look of the college landscape has shifted.
However, while embracing those differences, she’s still able to make the connections that help her relate to her player on a deeper level than just as a coach.
Calabrese said, for her, it’s about understanding the person.
“I don’t coach soccer,” Calabrese said. “I coach people, I coach women, and I think that’s what’s important. Everyone playing a college sport is not just an athlete, and they’re also not just students.”