Brian Shrum has put his time in coaching in his native Western Pennsylvania, and now in his second season as head coach at Youngstown State University’s women’s team, he’s beginning to build a program with some fresh Western PA roots.
Shrum’s extensive coaching journey has been almost extensively in Western PA since 1995, with stints at St. Vincent College, at Southmoreland High School and as Director of Coaching at Foothills and Century East. He moved to become an assistant coach with California University of PA, then followed Al Alvine to take the same role at Duquesne University, during which time he was promoted to Associate Head Coach.
Coach Shrum was integral in helping the Dukes win their first Atlantic 10 Championship and an appearance in the NCAA tournament in 2015.
When an opening came up for the head coaching position at Youngstown State in 2018, Shrum jumped at the opportunity to go across the border to Eastern Ohio.
The first year at the helm of a Division I program that’s never had a winning season was a tough process for Shrum as his Lady Penguins went 1-13-4.
Now in his second season, Shrum is assembling a young squad, and has turned to Western PA players to help fill the roster. Heading into the 2019 campaign, Youngstown State will have one senior on its roster and six juniors, with the remaining twenty-two players being sophomores and freshman.
Twelve players have joined the Youngstown State roster this season including Bethany Rasile a transfer from the University of Pittsburgh, and four new, freshman recruits from Shrum’s backyard:
Regan LaVigna (Peters Twp), Kendra Pampus (Norwin), Michaela Watkins (Freedom) and Addie Roman (Canon MacMillan).
Despite Youngstown State’s past struggles, Shrum calls what he is doing a build and not a rebuild.
He believes to see the program change, the culture has to change, and with change will come challenges and growing pains.
“I want a program that players want to come to Youngstown State and they are going to play against top Division I level teams.” This kind of build will take time,” Schrum said. “Within 4, 5 to 6 years, and then you will see a team that will challenge for an Horizon League Championship. Selfishly, I want to do it quicker.”
With so many experiences coaching in Western, PA, each stop in Shrum’s coaching journey has been integral.
“I don’t think there is one thing I can look at back on and say it hadn’t helped in some way, shape or form where I am today. The growth level, the experiences, interactions with board members or other coaches or youth players and older players, it’s been a wonderful experience,” Schrum explained. “The opportunity Al (Alvine) gave me to me spring boarded me up obviously here. When Al took that job at Duquesne and he asked me to come on board, that was my love. I just found it. All those great little experiences through Western, PA been easily part of the back bone to make me the person I am today.”
With a large incoming recruiting class which he can really begin to build a program in his image, Shrum says he is looking for “the growth of the incoming class, how they communicate and get along with the current group of players.”
Shrum’s well aware of the challenges that come with a large influx of freshman who will get thrown into fold right away.
How fast can that translate into wins?
Shrum believes even if it will take awhile, he wants to create a schedule that incorporate quality competition while building confidence in his young players.
”Possibly one way of doing so is creating a stronger and more challenging non-conference schedule headed into conference play. Theory is tougher teams to overcompensate when you go to play in conference. Sometimes that can backfire because the game is so fast and tough and the fatigue level rises. So, you play tougher teams that forces younger players to create more action per minute. More actions per minutes creates more fatigue over time.”
He also added the importance of playing a variety of opponents that will “help them understand what Division I soccer is all about.”
Ultimately, Shrum’s intent is to prepare his players for the intensity of conference competition.
“When the conference starts, the tempo rises again. Now every team in the conference is saying, now it is time to play for the tournament and league championship.”
When recruiting players to Youngstown State, Shrum can show them everything from the new living facilities to school plans over the next several years as well as the University’s continuing transformation beyond the soccer field.
In addition, as a student and an adjunct professor while also in the role as head coach Shrum, can connect with with the young student-athletes he coaches and mentors in numerous ways.
Shrum is currently pursuing a doctorate from Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions with a concentration in Human and Sports Performance. His focal is speed development in soccer within the principles of contextual application. Shrum hopes to complete his degree in the summer of 2020. His role as adjunct professor is at Duquesne, where he teaches Integrated Sports Enhancement and Injury Prevention within the Athletic Training curriculum.
“I had a young lady who was having a stats problem and I started asking her what the problem in stats was,” Shrum said. “Was it an anova, or factorial anova?”
Shrum is in the unique position as a student, teacher, coach and mentor. This helps him assist his student-athletes with the transition of stepping foot on a new campus and being in college for the first time.
“First day of classes, managing a load of training and classes, being away from home. All these things start to come on their plate,” Shrum said. “That’s the piece I hope I help with. Myself still being in school, still teaching, still up late, practicing what I preach. I texted the team at 7 a.m. following the Buffalo game to let them know I was up working with them. We are all in it together, trying to teach them these life lessons.”
The importance of recruiting is understated when you are trying to change the culture at a program.
“We have to be very good with recruiting,” Schrum declared. “If you look at the players that are here now from the freshman class, almost 90% of them played on teams that played at a very high level.”
Of the four WPIAL recruits, each were part of teams that have extensive postseason experience.
Watkins (Freedom) won a WPIAL title in 2018 and played for a PIAA title, Roman (Canon-McMillan) a PIAA State Title in 2016. Each of them had played at higher levels with their respective clubs as well. Playing in leagues like the ECNL, USYS National League and in high level tournaments. Bringing in players with this type of background can only help change a mindset of a program looking to move forward, taste success and build a positive, winning culture.
Having several players from the same area who have crossed paths or have played together in a club setting, can help with the transition and create a strong bond as well.
“Addie and Kendra, their relationship has been way up there, Cloud Nine. Knowing each other has helped the transition away from home,” Shrum explains, reverting beyond friendships, and back to the playing field. “A little bit of comfort on the field, kind of knowing each others tendencies which are nice but in soccer there are eleven players.”
With Youngstown State anywhere from two hours to less than hour away from WPIAL schools, Shrum knows it can be comforting that Western PA recruits are not too far away from home, but also adds there is more to it than that.
“Once that drop off hits when the season is over and your weekends, there is nothing on weekends,” Shrum said. “I think a lot of college campuses go through the same thing. The nice thing is since my time here, they make friends with kids who are from the area and go home with them.”
The players know there are challenges but come prepared physically and mentally. There were some parts of being initiated to the college game that just could not be replicated.
“ECNL was already fast. I thought I was good to go. It can’t get faster than this and I showed up and it was a lot of faster than that,” Pampus said. “I still think it prepared me to play at Division I.”
“Playing in the (ECNL) National League the past few years, I think playing against the girls all around the country who are going to play on the highest level, you see these girls and it’s going to help me prepare to be at the Division I level,” LaVigna said. “Your experiencing it but you are not going to prepare for it until you get there. We are privileged to come from an area in Pittsburgh were there are so many great opportunities with coaches and great players. You can build up your game and play at the next level.”
Roman added the importance of mental preparation.
”Coming from Pittsburgh, the biggest thing that stands out is the mindset in general. Not even the soccer aspect. Just the mentality you have to have to play at a high level. I think that is in high school there, club soccer there, it’s ingrained literally in everyone,” Roman explained. “Being part of a college program has its differences that the girls noticed as well. Being here every day compared to where club is two to three days a week and you are not traveling as much, not missing school as much. Having to balance all of that and your time is a lot to handle.”
Pampus feels that the group is growing.
Last year’s Penguins squad, in Shrum’s first campaign, only picked up one win.
After a rough start in the preseason losing 6-1 to Ohio University, the Penguins started to show improvement after a 2-0 loss to Buffalo.
“From the Ohio game to the Buffalo game, so much chemistry was picked up. From those games and practices, you can tell where those people are going to be without even looking,” Pampas added.
This past weekend, with its revamped roster, Shrum’s squad won its opening match of the regular season, 2-1, at home against Purdue-Fort Wayne, with the new recruits from Western PA having an immediate impact.
Roman scored the Penguins’ opening goal of the season after one minute of play thanks to converting a goal emanating from a corner kick, then a pass from LaVigna. Roman and Pampas started each of the first two matches, with Watkins coming off the bench each game.
The Penguins completed a two-game home stand with a 3-1 loss to St. Bonaventure.
As Youngstown State pushes through in Shrum’s second season, growing pains are to be expected.
“The hardest part is getting players to actually truly believe in can happen. They will all sit here and tell you they want to win a championship. Problem is, this program has is that there is no one in front of these players to say, this is how we have done it,” Shrum said, as he acknowledged he’ll have to be able to spin the plates.
It is a daunting task for all college coaches, trying to get there and build a sense of team pride and culture in a program that has lacked it at times. That is where the goals come in place to measure game by game and season over season.
“The expectation is to play in the NCAA tournament and the only way to do that is to win the Horizon. First goal, get into the conference tournament, second goal is to win the conference tournament and then play in the NCAA tournament. Every year it will be pushing that boundary.
With such a mountain to climb, building a program, a culture and setting goals for the program that they may have never had, does Coach Shrum wish anything could have been different?
“It has been a wonderful experience. I am so happy I came because I love the people who tell us we can’t do it. I was told it was a death sentence. You’ll never get kids to go to school there. You’ll never get good players to go there. I love that. Just keep telling me, we can’t do it. Then I bring in kids like this who want to knock your teeth out to tell you, you’re wrong.
The Youngstown State program has a sense of being on the upswing under Shrum’s direction.
Mentality is positive, energy great and players are focused.
Now it is very simple, they’ll have to follow Coach Shrum’s motto, “Raise the bar.”