Assistant Sports Editor
BENNINGTON -- Dan Engelstad is a recruiter, through and through.
So when Engelstad accepted the head coaching job for the Southern Vermont College men’s basketball team, he got to work recruiting his coaching staff.
It led him to Mount Anthony Union High School graduate AJ Mahar.
Together, the two are trying to change the face of the SVC basketball program.
But they sure have a lot of work to do.
Over the last two seasons, the SVC team has tallied three wins. Last year, the team only won one game.
Yet, as I sat down to meet with the two and discuss the future of the program, I was taken aback when Engelstad looked at me and said "I want to compete with Williams."
Compete with Williams College? A team that was 26-5 last season and reached the quarterfinals of the Division III tournament?
Surely, he meant some other team named Williams.
Engelstad was talking about the season opener. Williams College, at Williams College.
But Engelstad has a reason. The recruiter in him was already at work.
Engelstad will welcome 11 new players to the team this season. There are seven from the Washington, D.C., area, where Engelstad grew up and was able to make connections.
There is also one from Florida, who Mahar was able to pick up.
Then, there is the international flavor. The SVC program was able to recruit a 6’10" big man from New Zealand to come and play.
When I sat down with the two I did not foresee a column coming from the meeting. But the minute I walked out the door, I could sense something was brewing with the two.
Mahar recalled the days when the SVC program was in its prime. It coincided with when Mahar was at Mount Anthony.
Now, the two want to bring the program back to that point. And they have the know-how to do it.
Engelstad brings several years of experience as an assistant coach. He started at Mount St. Mary’s, helping the team to qualify for the Division I tournament. From there, he went to Holy Cross, where he worked as an assistant and helped to run the recruiting program.
Mahar already has legendary status in the Bennington area for his exploits in the MAU gymnasium. In 2003 and 2004, his Patriots teams made the semifinals of the Vermont state tournament. Over his final two years, MAU went 41-5. But he has been busy coaching, too. Mahar joins the SVC staff after working at Albany Academy last season.
Along with them, David Bromirksi, a six-year assistant with the program, and Terence White will also be on the coaching staff.
So what does all this mean? No one is sure, yet. But the two are hoping that with the passion they bring for the game, the SVC program will get back to where it was.
And to do that, the two are also turning to the community.
On Sundays, the SVC team is hosting skills camps for young ballplayers in the area. During the first session last Sunday, 40 kids showed up to participate. But Engelstad and Mahar want to see that program grow.
They want to give back to the community in which they are based, but they also want to see the community get involved.
"I want to get this gym rocking," Engelstad said.
Engelstad said that the team had more in store to connect with the community, although he wouldn’t go into detail. The one thing that is certain, though: Engelstad wants this to be a team for the whole of Bennington to enjoy, not just the SVC students.
Mahar will go a long way with helping that. So will things like the skills clinics. But there is still a lot of work to do to get the program back to where it was.
But in Engelstad’s hands, the program looks to be heading in the right direction.
Geoff Smith is the Assistant Sports Editor for the Bennington Banner. He can be reached at 447-7567 ex. 120, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on twitter @banner_sports.