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Considering the circumstances, it is interesting that Brenau University’s four new hires in its coaching staff weren’t all in the same setting until a group photo. Devon Thomas, Blaire Bachman, Beth Henson and Marilyn Anderson all bring a different background to their program, but all share one strong common bond: they are all Hall County natives.
At a private university that caters to women from all around the globe, it just so happens that the Golden Tigers now have a undeniable hometown touch. Brenau athletics director Mike Lochstampfor makes it clear that local candidates were not given priority in its program, it just so happens that four local high school graduates were the best candidates for the position.
“We try to hire the best coaches at Brenau,” Lochstampfor said. “However, their connections locally only goes to bring more visibility to our program.
“We’re tremendously pleased with our coaching changes.”
Even though Thomas, 38, has coached the fast-pitch softball program since 2004 on a part-time basis, his role is also a new one as a full-time employee with Brenau University as its athletic department’s director of eligibility. Just like with the Golden Tigers, he previously implemented fast-pitch programs at North Hall High and Chestatee High as a head coach.
“I see it as a tremendous benefit to be able to work in my home town,” said Thomas, who graduated from North Hall in 1990. “Opportunities like this don’t come around very often.”
As for the other three new Golden Tigers coaches, their ties to the community are just as strong. Bachman, the school’s new swimming coach, is a Gainesville High graduate and spent most of her life growing up swimming at Brenau’s indoor pool as a member of Lanier Aquatics.
At 24, Bachman is the youngest college swimming coach in the nation, according to collegeswimming.com.
Bachman will lead a program that has qualified for the NAIA national meet in each of the past four seasons. Now, Bachman is ready to hit the ground running to bring in top talent to blend with the women on the team already on board.
“The swimming program is fairly young and we have some good talent to grow upon,” said Bachman, who competed in college with the University of the Cumberlands and then Georgia College & State University.
When Bachman learned about the position opening, she received encouragement to pursue the move into coaching full time from Henson, who is a first cousin.
“I am excited to be starting my coaching career at Brenau along with my cousin Blaire,” Henson said. “It is a special time for both of us to be working for the University down the street from where we both grew up.
Blaire is a very talented, responsible and hardworking person and I know she will do great things for the swim program.”
Henson and Anderson are both joining Brenau as assistant coaches — Henson with the basketball program and Anderson with the soccer team.
Anderson, a 2006 West Hall High graduate, is new to Brenau in the coaching capacity, but spent the past four years playing soccer with the Golden Tigers and was a three-time All-Conference Selection in the Southern States Athletic Conference.
Henson comes to Brenau after a distinguished playing career at Gainesville High and then at Savannah College of Art & Design.
The past two seasons, Henson served as a volunteer coach with Brenau while her younger sister, Meg, played for the Golden Tigers. Beth says her main goal is to smooth the transition, along with head coach Gary Bays, with a young program in place for next season.
“It’s a blessing and an honor to become a coach at Brenau,” said Henson. “I want to be able to help the program keep the momentum it’s building.”
Brenau’s most successful program in recent seasons has been its softball program under Thomas’ leadership with back-to-back Top 20 finishes in the NAIA. After finishing 2-37 and receiving sparse interest from prospects in the programs’ first season, the Golden Tigers have combined for 78 wins the past two seasons and won a conference title in 2009.
Now, high school players are steadily contacting Thomas about what the program at Brenau has to offer.
“I probably have 15-20 players per week emailing for information about our program,” Thomas said. “Our success has really been a benefit to the program.”
However, one major change is in the future for the SSAC. Next season, the SSAC and Gulf Coast Conference will merge into one “super conference.”
In terms of softball, the two conferences will merge seven teams that finished in the Top 20 last season, with the addition of Bellhaven, William Carey and Mobile, all under the umbrella of the SSAC.
“Here at Brenau, our ultimate goal is to win the national title,” Thomas said.