But, it was no secret that there was one thing that would make Long pack up her bags and leave -- the job that sparked her career -- the head coaching position at Springfield College.
Long had a brief stint at Springfield in 1996-97, where she earned her Masters degree in sports management while serving as a graduate assistant for the women’s volleyball team under Dearing. In her two years at Springfield College, she made back to back appearances in the NCAA tournament. Before leaving to take a full-time coaching job at Dickinson College -- coaching both softball and volleyball -- Long sat in at interim head coach in the spring of ‘97 at Springfield.
Prior to Springfield, Long earned her undergraduate degree at Marist College in political science while being a four year participant on the varsity volleyball team. After her graduation in ‘94, she moved down to Washington D.C. and lived in a communal apartment building. In her time in the nation’s capital -- which wound up being a total of six weeks -- she embarked on multiple job opportunities in a rapidly evolving political scene. Eventually securing an interview in the field, Long credits the woman conducting the interview for sparking her coaching career.
“I went to an interview and [she] was like, ‘Clearly politics is not your passion, what’s your passion? What do you love?’”, Long said. She naturally replied to the question, sports -- specifically volleyball -- and the woman looked at Long and said, “Go do that.”
From there, Long went to the library and began looking up institutions where she would be able to earn a degree in Coaching, Physical Education or Sports Management and Recreation.
That is when Springfield College first came on her radar.
It was everything but a well mapped out journey, however, Long ended up right where she needed to be.
And it was all slipping through her fingers.
As July, wrapped up and the calendar page turned, Friday, Aug. 17th, was marked.
Text messages of, “Are you ready for the season?” and “Are you excited?” began to pour into Long’s phone. She always replied with “yes,” however, Long questioned if she would really be ready.
With a .686 career winning percentage, it would have been an early retirement to a very successful, yet short, career. However, it wasn’t the right time.
Long wrestled with the thought of no one physically taking her job from her, and it was just herself standing in her own way.
“It had everything to do with [coaching] was my pure joy, no one can take that away from me,” she said, even herself. It was easier to think negatively in the five weeks leading up to season. Her progression through her healing was much slower than she wanted to admit to herself, let alone anyone else. She was barely able to muster up an appetite, or enough energy to shower. She was still using assistance in walking up the stairs.
She wasn’t ready.
In her doubt, Long dedicated her thoughts to adopting a new philosophy of positive affirmative statements, such as, “It will get better.”
“That was my mantra,” she said.
In her absence from computer screens, recruiting emails, television, radio -- practically the outside world -- she began scribing these lists of “It wills,” and “I wills” inside a small notebook. A series of I will be better tomorrow and I will be able to see -- and all things related to Long willing herself through the journey -- were scribbled on page after page.
The thought of being in Blake Arena, her favorite place in the world, and coaching, the thing that sets her soul on fire, is what pushed Long through.
“It was this burning desire that I had to be there. It’s my passion, it’s my love,” she said. “It’s where I need to be.”
In her doubt, in her fear, Long was enlightened by the job she was already so grateful to have; she was uplifted by the Springfield community that has become her second home; she found strength in herself that she never thought she had.
It was a game of mind over matter.
Physically she was not there. She was barely able to get up and walk to the kitchen the days prior to the first day of the season, however, mentally she gained wisdom beyond her years.
She gained a brand new perspective.
“My biggest thing leading up to preseason was, I will be okay. I will be ready,” she said.
And she was.
On occasion, when volleyballs are lifted into the air higher than usual, into the rafters the hard woods of Blake Arena, the ball will return to the court with falling confetti.
One single strand of confetti will float its way down slowly, taking its time, twirling in a variety of directions. It reflects a distant memory of the championships that were won on the hardwoods of Blake Arena, the championships that have been lost at the sight of the first game of volleyball ever played.
And recent echoes of the 2013 season where the NEWMAC Championship was won at home under Long’s guidance.
But more importantly, it’s a reminder of all the practices that have gone into each season. The practices on Sunday nights, Monday mornings at 5 a.m., the workouts and lifts that go hand in hand.
Imbedded into the hardwood is a silhouette of Long hovering along each sideline. Her coaching style resembled that of, “I’ll show you.” She was all talk, all bite. Her teammates from her college days at Marist say she was the worst to play with – but also the absolute best.
She would get in your face. She would demand the absolute best out of you every time you step on the court. And she would make you the player you always dreamed of becoming.
That is also how she coaches.
She coaches in a manner of volleyball being a microcosm of life. Meaning, the lessons she teaches on the volleyball court will transcend deep into the fabrics of one’s personal life. She values open communication and community service, and she builds strong women in her program at a critical time. Above all, Long preaches about the art of giving, not taking.
Long's brain X-ray post surgery
The art of giving is not always physical. Giving could be embodied into the giving of consistent effort and energy, the giving of one’s attention or service. It could be a pat on the back, a high five. It’s the giving of leadership, kindness and compassion that Long coaches and leads by example.
That is, until she was sidelined, quite literally, by brain surgery. Almost all of the preseason leading up to the 2018-2019 season, she spent in a rolling office chair. Rolling back and forth between the three courts that stretch across Blake Arena for practice, critiquing, coaching, complimenting. All the while, paying mind to keeping a safe distance from the courts.
One stray ball that was sent flying, finding Long’s head, could have sent her right back to the operation table.
Long said that sitting so far away from the court, in a chair especially, was a 180-degree change from the coaching style she previously had. It was an adjustment and gave her a new perspective of the game, and coaching.
Had Long written down, “I hope I’m ready,” the season would have panned out much differently.
If Long had written down, “I hope I’m ready,” she would not have led the Pride back to the NCAA Championship tournament after missing it the year prior, ending a seven-year streak. The Pride ended the 2018-2019 season 24-8, falling to Wesleyan in the second round of the NCAA tournament, reinstating their national footprint.
A successful season at all levels.
If Long had written down, “I hope I’m ready,” she would not have reached a pinnacle moment of her career reaching 500 wins.
If Long had written down, “I hope I’m ready,” she would have not gained all the new perspectives that this year brought her, figuratively and literally.
If Long had written down, “I hope I’m ready,” she would not have been ready when her mother passed away in the first days of October and still showed up to coach every day; to be a friend every day; to be a mother every day.
And to still give every day.
Losing a parent alone is enough to sideline a coach, or a player, for a season. However, pair the grief of a loss within the same three-month span of open brain surgery, it’s safe to conclude that Long embodied that of all she teaches.
She gave the 2018-2019 season her all and more, going above and beyond.
A season without a championship would have once left Long hungry. But, when factoring in all the elements, Long is satisfied with the outcome. She was satisfied with the Springfield College standard volleyball.
She withstood the test of time, and the year is proof of that.