FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Someone once said, "You can take the athlete out of competition, but you can't take the competitive edge out of the athlete."
In the case with new assistant coach of men and women's distance at Northern Arizona University, Becca DeLoache, that sentiment certainly holds true.
"I'm just a firm believer in taking your experiences and allowing them to guide you," says the newest addition to the Lumberjack family.
Coach DeLoache, a title combination that phonetically rolls off the tongue with ease, reflects a fresh hunger and enthusiasm for the profession that most young coaches embody. What separates DeLoache, though, is her seasoned résumé and unparalleled level of experience despite just graduating with her master's degree in sports industry management from Georgetown University in the spring of 2016.
With someone that appears as intrinsically determined as DeLoache, you would never guess even she experienced indecision when it came to choosing what to do with her life outside of school.
"I didn't know what I wanted to do when I got into college, and that's why I thought I would just get a business degree," DeLoache recalls. "I was surrounded by a bunch of people that wanted to be investment bankers on Wall Street, and I just had this freak out moment of, 'that's not what I want to do; I want to be helping people.'"
So, the journey began.
In her travels, DeLoache logged professional time with Nike Inc., her alma mater GU, and as a coach for the D.C.-based youth exercise program Just for Kids. In fact, the native of Charlotte, N.C., is no stranger to Flagstaff, either.
DeLoache credits her four month stint at Flag's High Performance Sport Center, more commonly referred to as Hypo2, as her "a-ha" moment: the point at which she realized what truly ignited her interests and passions.
"At Hypo2," DeLoache remembers, "I loved everything I was doing. However, the one aspect I felt like I was missing was the journey; I was helping the athletes with a lot of things outside of the sport, but I wasn't making the impression training-wise and athletically that I wanted to."
"I've always loved the college student age group. I just think it's such a transformative period, and it's the time where you really have an opportunity to get to know yourself. When you add running into the equation and use that as the vehicle to learning more about who you are, the entire process becomes even more influential, beneficial and eye-opening. That's where I wanted to be, that's where I thought I could make my biggest contribution."
It would be hard to argue with her logic. Outside of her demeanor, one that exuberates confidence and conviction, DeLoache was a well-rounded track star at Georgetown. A 2015 NCAA All-American and three-time Academic All-American as a Hoya, DeLoache held what-was-then the university's third-best 800-meter indoor time at 2:04.86—a mark that ranked 16th in the nation during the 2015 campaign. She also ran the 400-meter leg on the squad's 2015 All-American distance medley relay team while posting a Georgetown top-20 mark in the 500-meter indoor run (1:13.31).
Her accomplishments off the track, though, might be just as—if not even more—impressive. In her four years as an undergraduate, DeLoache was a founding member of Georgetown's International Justice Mission, a teaching assistant, and her team's SAAC representative—all while maintaining a 3.86 cumulative GPA. Since graduating, she has become the baton lead for the Hoya track and field alumni association outreach club, Spiked Shoes
As the above description details, Coach DeLoache harnesses a unique understanding on how to sustain personal growth and success both on and off the track—making her a perfect candidate to aid in that same progression for student-athletes today.
"I'm passionate about the sport, and I'm passionate about helping other athletes get faster," DeLoache declares. "However, even more than personal improvement athletically, it's about using that sport to help them learn more about their character and who they are as people."
With qualifications seemingly well beyond her years, all it came down to was opportunity; getting that foot in the all-elusive door. Enter Mike Smith.
Before joining the Lumberjacks as the proverbial "new man on campus," Smith was manning the reigns at, where else, Georgetown University. There, he coached 47 All-Americans, 23 NCAA Championship qualifiers, two Olympic Trial athletes, and lead the women's DMR team to a 2016 NCAA DI National Title. Smith, himself, was a 2007 Olympic Trail qualifier in the marathon and former All-American athlete as a Hoya, too.
It was during DeLoache's junior year when Smith, similar to the situation here at NAU, accepted the role as director of track and field. Under his leadership and coaching, DeLoache was able to record some of the greatest moments of her athletic career and it is because of that transition and proven success she believes the NAU program is in great hands.
"Think about it: [former NAU Director of Track and Field and Cross Country] Eric Heins did an awesome job," DeLoache acknowledges with admiration. "As is the case with any coaching change in any sport, though, there's going to be changes and differences from the previous head coach."
"However, these are differences coming from a person, [Coach Smith], who I fully believe in. I've been a part of his program before, and I've seen that success in a similar situation."
The respect level is mutual, too, if you ask Smith about his feelings regarding DeLoache and her coaching style.
"Northern Arizona and our program are fortunate to have Coach DeLoache join our staff," says Smith. "When I was brought on, I inherited one of the most experienced and knowledgeable coaching staffs in the country thanks to Coach Heins. Now, the addition of Coach DeLoache just furthers, deepens and magnifies our strengths and what we have to offer our student-athletes."
"Culture is one of our secrets here at NAU track and field, so we want to make hires that further our commitment of fostering a positive student-athlete experience. I feel like we've accomplished that in bringing on Coach DeLoache."
With a positive, overwhelming aura around this team that seems to be catching on rapidly, it appears that the shift from one excellent coach to another is moving along smoothly.
As we all have come to find out, though, looks can be deceiving. That is why coaches like Becca DeLoache and the rest of the NAU track and field staff continue to invest in the athletes and fuel their progression through sound, educated and enthusiastic leadership.
That is the reality of great coaching, and it is something already sewn into the fabric of DeLoache's character.
"For me, just to have the opportunity to help other student-athletes grow the way I did as a person, as an athlete, as a student...there's nothing that brings me more fulfillment than witnessing that growth and progression."