June 18, 2024
The Witt Tigers logo.

As the New Year dawned, The Torch took the opportunity to interview a variety of coaches from Wittenberg University’s Athletics staff! Here’s what they had to say about their current and upcoming seasons.

Interview with Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country/ Track and Field Coach: Paris Hilliard 

Paris Hilliard was born and raised in Lorain, OH. He went to Heidelberg University to study sports management and was a graduate assistant coach. He has been a coach at Wittenberg for 13 years, and in the first track meet of the season, the team set school records. During the cross-country season, the women’s team won the conference, and the men’s team earned a 3rd place finish, which is their top finish in 25 years. To finish off their season, track, and field athletes Connor Kolka (junior) and Ella Webster (sophomore) were named National Qualifiers. Coach Hilliard is excited about the season and thinks it will be a good one. He is also excited about the future and the success to come. Coach Hilliard is excited about the season and thinks it will be a good one. He is also excited about the future and the success to come. 

How do you fit into Witt athletics? 

PH: I feel like I fit into Wittenberg athletics because this is my home; I have been here 13 years, and I am the longest-tenured coach. I love it here! 

What are your expectations for the rest of the season?  

PH: My expectations for the rest of the season are that the women’s team win the conference in track for the 3rd year in a row, the men’s team aspire to win a championship, and both teams hope to get to nationals. 

What is the team like this year?  

PH:  The team is good. Every new team comes with different personalities where they figure things out. They are willing to work and driven enough to be pretty good and want to be successful. The team has 40 first-year students, and they are all on the same page. 

What have they been doing in practice?  

PH: In Track and Cross Country, you can get caught up in the times and marks but instead they need to focus on the process of how to get there. Everything will not go well for you every day, so make sure you focus on things in practice and small sessions and hit those marks when it matters most. 

How does practice translate to what happens on the track?  

PH: They are controlling what they can control day to day, on and off the track. They are working on eating and sleeping right. There are small things that accumulate into big things that make you perform better academically, athletically, and overall, worry about things you can control and not what you cannot control. 

What is your favorite part of the team so far?  

PH: There are a lot of good personalities that make it fun. Track is very hard physically and mentally. We have a talented team who want to win and have a great coaching staff. 

Outside of the Steemer what is your favorite part of Wittenberg? 

PH: The Hollow. I enjoy the Spring and Fall and seeing students around campus.  

Interview with Head Men’s Volleyball Coach: Nathan Matthews ‘19 

Nathan Matthews came to Witt as a student in the first class of men’s volleyball players, and got to go through the growing pains of figuring out what college volleyball is. He went to the University of Kentucky for 2 years to coach women’s volleyball and won the National Championship. Shortly after, he got a call about being the men’s coach here at Wittenberg. Matthews is going into his 3rd season with the Men’s Volleyball Program, and this season, the team brought back 6th year Tom Supan, who won the first team all-conference. The team also brought back sophomore Eli Halverson, who had a fantastic rookie season for the Tigers, winning Rookie of the Year and 1st team all-conference.

Along with Halverson and Supan, Coach Matthews also highlighted sophomore Michael Yurk, who did not win a conference award but was on the National Team. During last season, Nathan Matthews and the Tigers played Baldwin Wallace, and they hit 306, while Baldwin Wallace hit 250. Wittenberg played better but lost the match 3-2. Matthews said, “I am really excited for the season, having a team that no men’s volleyball team at Witt has had before!” He believes that Wittenberg has some of the best players in the country and some of the best strategies in the country. He said, “They will be really fun to watch.” He encourages Wittenberg to come out to the match on January 12th vs #7 in the country, St. John Fisher, at 7:00 in Pam Evans Smith Arena. 

NM: The first group of guys won the AMCC conference and got it going. It was really hard to see the program possibly get cut and getting back to where the program was meant to be was hard. The first thing I did after getting back was calling the guys from the year before, such as Dominic Melchiorre, who was the best player from that class, and was also in the transfer portal, and I convinced him to stay, promising to turn the program around.

Melchiorre would end up 2nd team all-conference and was also on the all-tournament team. He ended his season with a championship. Getting turned around as a team was a big piece of it, as well as getting a big recruiting class last year.

How do you fit into Witt athletics? 

NM: It is cool to be back at my alma mater, but the state of the program was the reason to come back. I did not want to have the team get cut, and everything I wanted to accomplish was to build up to winning the conference. 

How did last season go?  

NM: We had a really big recruiting class; 9 first-year students and 2 transfers, and it was a long time to get on the same page, with tons of fresh faces. We needed to trust each other, as the season went along. They won the conference, and the whole team returned this season, and they improved a lot!

What are your expectations for the season?  

NM: My expectation for the season is to win the conference championship again. Last year we lost in the conference tournament, but we are hoping to redeem ourselves this year. We hope to beat Baldwin Wallace, one of the top 15 teams in the nation this year, and we think Witt is going to be right behind them this year. The conference has improved a lot over the years; it is fun to have someone to push you, so you do not plateau. 

What is the end goal for the season?  

NM: The end goal for the season is to win the conference tournament, go to the NCAA Tournament, go one week at a time, and improve the whole year. 

What is the team like this year? 

NM: We did evaluations of what happened when they faced Baldwin Wallace and came down to 2-3 points, and we thought about how we could change what we did. We changed a lot this fall (serve/receive system, how aggressive they serve, defense, new blocking, out-of-system offense). Going into the season with this new stuff, we hope that it is good during the season. 

What’s your favorite part of the team so far?  

NM: They get it. The continuity and success they had last year and running it back, on the same page. It’s been easy to change things; Baldwin Wallace is going to be in a different boat with a big first-year class. Our team has role stability, constant cycle, and competitiveness, and we know who we are. 

Favorite part about Wittenberg?  

NM: I went here; I enjoy how it is not a commuter school, and how people stay and support each other when we have teams doing well and chasing championships. I’m hoping to take that a step farther this year. 

Favorite building on campus?  

NM: Blair, when they were renovating the HWA, that was the sport management building as well. 

Interview with Head Men’s and Women’s Swim and Dive Coach: Sam Williams Benedict  

Sam Williams Benedict grew up in a swimming family, competitively swam from age 6-19, went to Kenyon, suffered a shoulder injury and student coached. She ended up loving coaching, so she pursued collegiate athletics, worked in admin for 2 years, before being drawn back to swimming, and she pursued coaching opportunities there. Williams Benedict is in her 3rd season with the Tigers.

Sophie Paskiet, a freshman breaststroker, is a phenomenal addition to the Swim and Dive team, and she has success in relays and solo events. Paskiet is the 8th fastest out of 100 breaststrokers in Wittenberg history. Shania Stone, a sophomore, comes from the Water Polo team. Her specialty is freestyle, and like Paskiet, she is huge in relays and individual events. She is close to the team record in the 50 free, which Williams Benedict says is exciting since she has only swum with the team for a few months. She is the 4th fastest freestyler in Witt swim and dive history. Zach Parkman. a senior, specializes in butterfly, sits 4th in Witt all time. Mason Steen, a sophomore, cracked into the all-time in 100 breaststrokes (sits 8th). There are already eight commits for next year’s team, so they will have a young team again next year. Williams Benedict is looking to see the team thrive and flourish. 

How do you fit into Witt athletics? 

SWB: Wittenberg is truly a special place to be, with intense passion from the student-athletes who are around, as well as the coaches; it makes it special to be a part of.

How is the season going?

SWB: The season is going phenomenally well; we are in the middle of rebuilding time. A lot more on the roster, a lot of newcomers. 

What are your expectations for the season?  

SWB: The biggest thing we are looking for is continuing to be competitive and to have fun, continue to have times drop, making sure we are getting better. Watching the team come together and define this culture we have been building is going to be exciting in how they come together and culminate at the end of the season.  

What is your end goal for the season? 

SWB: My expectation for the end of the season is to have a strong showing at the Conference Championship meet. I would love for 100% of the student-athletes to get the best time or drop time.  I would love to see them move up in conference. I want them to finish the season feeling like they have done and given everything 100%, that they had fun and improved, and that will be a successful season for them.  

What is the team like this year? 

SWB: On the team this year we have a goofy group of individuals; they love to be around each other, and they are also motivated and passionate. We have a very young team: 80% of the team is newcomers. We are also trying to build the culture and competitiveness.  

What have they been doing in practice?  

SWB: We are in the middle of an intense training phase, and just wrapped up taking a trip in FL over winter break to train. We are working on lots of yardage, training, pace, and preparing to compete at the end of the season. 

What is your favorite part of the team so far? 

SWB: My favorite part of the team is the camaraderie they have, the energy, the culture, and how supportive they are. They are always energetic and watching them during meets is incredibly special. During the midseason meet we had a lot of best times which was exciting to watch. We would look at the scoreboard on the wall, but it had a lag so it would not update right away, so they looked to teammates for reactions — they have each other’s backs.  

What is your favorite part of Witt?  

SWB: My favorite part about Wittenberg is the competitiveness and the community we have, the passion we have, not just for sports but whatever we are doing around campus.  

What is your favorite part about being a coach?  

SWB:  I love being a piece of the journey of a student-athlete, seeing them coming in as a first-year athlete, and being able to see growth and their achievements in and out of the pool. 

Interview with Head Men’s Basketball Coach: Matt Croci ‘94  

Matt Croci is a Witt alum, and coached D3 his whole career (Kenyon, Capital, Mary Washington College). Croci has been at Wittenberg for 10 seasons; this season is his 8th as head coach. His most recent accomplishment is hitting 200 overall as a coach. Trey Killens, a junior, is one of the best players in the conference. Killens had a great first ten games and hit a few game winners; Croci said, “The guys are trusting him and following him. This is a fun group to support.” He also said, “The first-year class has been an excellent group, good energy, fitting in and good personalities. This group is fun to watch play.”

  How long have you been at Wittenberg? 

MC: This season is my 10th year at Witt; 8th as a head coach.  

How do you fit into Witt athletics?  

MC: I understood Wittenberg Athletics since I went to Witt. I know what the culture is like.  

How did the season go? 

MC: The season is off to a good start. Young guys are playing big minutes, and playing hard every day. They are easy to coach, good at practice, and they work hard and get along well.   

What are your expectations for the season? 

MC: We take it one game at a time, play Hope (L 67-57), but a win versus Muskingum during the holiday classic (70-61) and Stevenson (79-68).   

What is your end goal for the season? 

MC: Our end goal is to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year. Do not peak too early, continue improving every day, and hopefully be in a position to win the conference and make it to the NCAA tournament.  

What is the team like this year?  

MC: The team is very young, youthful, and energetic; they like to be around each other. The team practices and plays hard daily. The team is fun with a lot of energy. 

What have they been doing in practice? 

MC: They come ready to go every day. They are always willing to get better. Some guys are competitive and want to come in to compete. They are all trying to get better every day.  

What is your favorite part of the team so far?  

MC: I enjoy being around them, they get along well: no ego, no drama, just a fun group.  

What is your favorite part of Wittenberg?  

MC: My favorite part about Wittenberg is the people, and the essence is the same as when I went here: a lot of good people, a sense of community, people looking out for each other.  

What is your favorite part about being a coach?  

MC: The best part about being a coach is getting the opportunity to mentor and guide a group of guys and lead them. I had a wonderful experience when I was here, and I am trying to provide the same experience for my team.  

Interview with Head Women’s Basketball Coach: Melissa Kolbe ‘99 

Melissa Kolbe is from Cleveland, OH. She came to Witt in 1995, became a grad student at Jennifer Austin St (GA), found her way into coaching from Coach Pam Evans Smith, worked at Mercer University for 1-year, East Carolina for 6 years, Eastern Kentucky for 6, Mount St Mary’s for 1-year, Western Kentucky for 3 years, and University of Cincinnati for 4 years. Coach Kolbe is in her 2nd year as the Wittenberg women’s basketball head coach.

The women’s basketball team started the season well and beat the top 15 team in Ohio Northern and another top 15 team in Trine.  

As an alum, Kolbe understands and loves the culture and feels like she has grown since she attended Witt as a student-athlete. She understands our mission statement, the expectations we have for our student-athletes, and the standards we set, and she thinks she is extremely fortunate to have played for someone so influential in her life to be able to be that mentor for her athletes through the good and tough times, all the growth that happens in college.

How did the season go? 

MK: I thought last year went well, even though we lost in the conference tournament, but it was my first year as the head coach, and I felt unproven as the season started. It has been fun to watch my players grow in confidence and trust in themselves and the process, to watch them go from not knowing how good they will be to expecting what they want and need to accomplish.

What are your expectations for the season?  

MK: My expectation is to win a Championship, the players have set that as their standard, and when they work hard every day it is on their minds. We want to go to the NCAA tournament and win every day.   

What is your end goal for the season? 

MK: My end goal is for the players to feel like they achieved everything they wanted to, they realize that they are so much stronger and more resilient than they thought they were, and have no regrets.  

What is the team like this year? 

MK:  The team is… interesting. They are fun to be around, there are lots of different personalities, and they make me happy to practice. They are a group of great young women, and while they are not perfect, and I don’t expect them to be, they work hard and come in every day even if they do not feel like it, and they work like they feel like it.  

What have they been doing in practice? 

MK:  We have been playing lots of defense, we have also been playing competitively and learning to understand it is ok to be competitive and compete super hard, but realize you are sisters at the end of the day. Get up shots.  

What is your favorite part of the team so far?  

MK: My favorite part about the team is to sit back and watch them have fun, how they grow, how they overcome obstacles, and have fun when they win. When they beat ONU, I got water poured on me!  

What is your favorite part of Wittenberg?  

MK: My favorite part about Wittenberg is the people, the reason I came back when offered the job was also the impact the people at Wittenberg had on me as a student-athlete. 

Favorite part about being a coach?  

MK:  My favorite part about being a coach is the relationships we build throughout the recruiting process. It’s also watching the girls commit at 16/17 years old and their process of decision-making, watching them grow as women. It’s fun to be a part of the process.  

Favorite Building on Campus? 

MK: My favorite building on campus is Recitation Hall — the chapel on the 2nd floor, I feel it embodies Wittenberg.  

Thank you to our coaches who participated in these interviews; Pack the Pam and Go Tigers!

Interview contents came from transcripts which may have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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