A Selling Strategy
April 16, 2007
Coaching was never on her radar. She admits it never even crossed her mind. Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll always thought about going into sales with Calloway, Titleist or another major golf company after her professional career was over. But since taking over Michigan State's women's golf program 10 years ago, the Spartan program has been on everyone's radar, rocketing into the better half of the Big Ten standings and onto the national limelight year in and year out.
Slobodnik's passion and enthusiasm for her work and her sport runs quite literally in her veins. Her father Dave played at Illinois State and is a single-digit handicap player at the family's home course of Egypt Valley in Grand Rapids, Mich. Additionally, her grandfather, Louis Slobodnik, won the Cook County Amateur in Chicago in 1947. Slobodnik credits these two men along with her college coach, former MSU head coach Mary Fossum, in guiding her personally and professionally toward her successful career as player and coach.
While Slobodnik describes her college career as "decent," her modesty does not explain the impact that she had on the Green and White. She arrived on MSU's campus in 1990 as a wide-eyed redshirt freshman, but under the direction of her predecessor and Hall of Fame coach, Slobodnik's talent unfolded. By her junior and senior years, Fossum had entrusted Slobodnik to lead the team as a captain.
"The qualities that brought her to Michigan State are the same qualities that I saw in her when she was progressing through her degree, improving on her golfing abilities and interacting with people on campus," said Fossum. "In seeing these things develop, I wasn't surprised at all by Stacy's growth."
The straight-shooter had no problem with her role as team leader.
"For me, being a leader was not only something I wanted, but something that I felt that I was good at," added Slobodnik.
While Slobodnik may have been unaware of how she would inevitably give back to the sport that she grew up playing, it was apparent that she always wanted to be associated with it. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in communications in 1994, Slobodnik tested the professional world for a year before Fossum turned to her to lead once again, this time as an assistant coach.
"In my life I have been given so much through golf--so many wonderful opportunities-- so for me coaching was one of the first ways that I could actually give back to the game," said Slobodnik. "Getting that opportunity from Mary was a wonderful experience and it was something that at the time I didn't know where it was going to lead."
It is easy to see why after 25 years of coaching over a 100 student-athletes, Fossum chose Slobodnik as her replacement. Replacing her mentor might have been daunting for the young coach, but Slobodnik never looked at it that way.
"Being Mary's assistant for two years made it quite easy, so I never thought about how I would feel replacing her because it was something that I wanted so badly," said Slobodnik. "I kept a notebook and everything that she did that I loved I wrote it down kind of like a book of ideas."
When Fossum retired in 1997, Slobodnik put her newly formed philosophies to the test. It didn't take long for the young coach to find success. In just her second year at helm, Slobodnik completed the biggest one-year improvement in conference history by moving up six spots to third at the end of the 1999 Big Ten season. It was the first time Michigan State had cracked the top-three since the Spartans were runner-up in 1987. In addition, the Spartans advanced to their first NCAA Regional since the 1984 season and set in motion a string of eight-straight appearances (1999-2006) for Slobodnik and her crew. Slobodnik earned Midwest District Coach of the Year for her efforts that year as well.
By her third year, Slobodnik had resurrected the team into the national spotlight by breaking into the national rankings for the first time. After a runner-up finish at the 2000 Big Ten Championships in Madison, Wis., and making its first NCAA Championship appearance in over 16 years, the Green and White finished the year ranked 19th in the country.
By the 2000-01 campaign, the Spartans had muscled their way all the way to the top of the standings, claiming their first Big Ten Championships since 1982. MSU placed third at the NCAA West Regional and improved on their NCAA Championship finish from 2000 by taking 12th to finish the year 16th in the MasterCard Collegiate rankings.
It was obvious that Slobodnik's interest in sales would have to wait since following her heart back to her alma mater. However, it was just that skill set that led outstanding recruits to eventually sign on with the young coach.
"Once I started coaching I realized all the different facets that there are to coaching, said Slobodnik. "Being a coach is just one part of the myriad of jobs that you actually do. One part that I absolutely love is the recruiting. To me, I love being around people and I love talking. It is really a `sales' job and I like selling a product that I believe in so much."
And she is pretty good at it too.
Over the last eight years, Slobodnik's players have earned All-Big Ten honors 16 times, including three Spartans in 2004 alone (first-team selection Allison Fouch and second- team honorees Ann Marie Kersten and Sarah Martin.) In 1998, Kasey Gant was the first women's golfer in Spartan history to earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. In 2001, Gant became the first Spartan golfer to earn All-Big Ten honors for four-consecutive years. Emily Bastel became the second to achieve the feat in 1999 and followed up the accomplishment with the Spartan's first-ever Big Ten Women's Golf Athlete of the Year honor in 2002.
Sara Brown is another of Slobodnik's recruits who has flourished under MSU's Green and White. Currently, the junior owns the second-lowest career average in Spartan history with a 75.80 average. This year Brown is the lone Big Ten golfer to earn the National Player of the Week award from Golfweek. She has recorded the lowest rounds for her Spartan team four times this season, including capturing medalist honors at the Landfall Tradition on Oct. 29.
Slobodnik concedes the 2001 title run was one of the highlights of her life and one she will never forget. She remembers the pep talk she had with superstar and leader Gant the night before the last day of competition. Like any good coach, Slobodnik knew that she could only do so much and trusted her senior enough to relay her message to the team.
The next day the Spartans were led by neither Gant, nor the team's other two standouts in Snider and Bastel, but by Fouch, a redshirt freshman. Fouch shot a career-best total of 303, good enough for a second-place finish. Bastel and Fouch would go on to earn All-America honors under Slobodnik, as Bastel received second-team distinction in 2002 and Fouch earned honorable mention status in 2004.
Slobodnik distinctly remembers watching Fouch lose the individual title on the 18th hole, but took something else away from the near win.
"To me it was such a good feeling knowing we had so many good players already at Michigan State and to know we just added another one as a freshman," said Slobodnik. "Again, you just try to continuously bring in good kids who are great people and wonderful athletes."
Slobodnik continues to carry on the family name while balancing out the coach and player in herself. The three time U.S. Amateur Championship qualifier has found great success in winning various amateur events in her home state of Michigan since renewing her amateur status in 1995.
Slobodnik's success as both a coach and player can be easily connected to her passion and energy for the game. While Slobodnik ended up not selling the tools that one plays the game, one can argue she sells something much more important to the game -- her love and passion for a game that has spanned student-athlete to professional, assistant to head coach and player to recruiter.
After all, Slobodnik always thought of herself in sales.