Editor’s note: This is part two of a series on former BYU athletes who have returned to the school as coaches. Find part one to the series, “Former student athletes return to BYU as coaches,” here.
It’s all about the love of the game, the desire for a good challenge and an intense sense of Cougar pride. Their desire to win for BYU has only increased as these individuals transitioned from former BYU student athletes to coaches.
Only a select few BYU students have the opportunity to play as an athlete. Even fewer come back to coach. Their journeys may vary, but their current destination is the same: coaching the next generation of Cougar athletes.
BYU track and cross country coach Patrick Shane discovered his love and talent of running during his sophomore year of high school. Shane could not only run fast, but he could also run long distances as well and he was invited to participate in track. Looking back on that event, Shane knew that was a pivotal moment that laid the foundation for the rest of his life and career.
“It really changed my life actually,” Shane said. “I ended up being recruited by Berkley and Stanford and Alabama and schools like that and BYU.”
Shane’s heart was set on attending Berkley at the time, and he wanted to stay in the Bay area he grew up in. But it was Shane’s mother who chose BYU and felt that it was the best choice for her son. The decision was made, and Shane ran for BYU from 1966-1970.
“It turns out that she was right,” Shane said. “They had a good track program and I had a lot of friends coming here… I got here and loved it. I fell in love with the mountains and really enjoyed my experience at BYU.”
Shane never thought he would pursue coaching after he finished running for BYU as an athlete. He enjoyed science and considered going into medicine. But looking back on his life, Shane can now see the subtle path that was being prepared for him to coach and inspire future athletes.
“I can’t identify where and when, but it came clear to me that that’s what I was supposed to do and it was surprising,” Shane said. “It just sort of happened and when I realized and embraced the fact that I wanted to be a coach, it seemed right.”
Shane began by coaching the Provo High School track and cross country teams in 1974. He later moved onto coaching the BYU Cross Country team in 1980, the USA Women’s National Cross Country teams in 1999 and the USA Women’s Junior National Track and Field team in 2008. He has coached several national champions, All-Americans and Olympians during his coaching career.
Shane is now the women’s cross country head coach and assistant head coach for track. He’s coached for several decades, but what keeps Shane going is sharing the joy of hard work and success with his athletes. Working with them to achieve their physical, social, spiritual and academic goals is what he enjoys most about coaching.
“When an athlete comes in and they have a coach and an expectation, you help them achieve it, and you help them realize their potential,” Shane said. “You share the joy when they do that. It’s the joy that’s shared of people that worked hard.”
The desire to play tennis first came when Lauren Jones-Spencer was 9 years old. She remembers her mother playing and wanting to play with her.
“My mom told me if I could hit 20 balls in a row against a wall, she’d sign me up for lessons,” Jones-Spencer said. “She wanted to see how serious I was.”
Twenty balls later, Jones-Spencer was signed up for lessons. Those lessons progressed to playing competitively and becoming nationally ranked in her age divisions. Jones-Spencer was recruited by several schools, especially ones in California where she’s from. But she remembers BYU being distinctly different from the other campuses she visited and knew that BYU was the best fit for her.
Jones-Spencer played for BYU from 2003-2007. Jones-Spencer had great success, especially during her senior year. She finished her final year with her career best record at 25-13 in singles and 23-12 in doubles. There were times when Spencer-Jones struggled with tennis despite her prior success or hard work. It was advice from her dad that motivated her to keep pushing forward during those moments of struggle.
“He always said, ‘Just have a positive attitude and keep trying and usually things will turn around,'” Jones-Spencer said.
Jones-Spencer never considered becoming a tennis coach for BYU. She studied graphic design and wanted to do something creative. But there was an opening for the assistant coach position on the women’s tennis team just as she was graduating. Jones-Spencer remembers joking with the head coach at the time that she should be hired and the head coach told her to apply. Jones-Spencer started her coaching career as an assistant in 2008 and later became head coach in 2010.
Jones-Spencer tries to give similar advice and guidance to the girls on her team now as the head coach. She said tennis is a mental sport, so it’s very common for the athletes to have ups and downs. It’s during these times Jones-Spencer reminds the girls to do their best, not consistently worry about the shots they miss, and to be kind to themselves.
Her leadership, guidance and ability to build her team were primary reasons for her being awarded the WCC Coach of the Year in 2014. To be at BYU and to see the girls grow, develop and mature in four years is what Jones-Spencer enjoys most about coaching.
“BYU is a really unique place,” Jones-Spencer said. “It takes special players to come here. These girls, they’re awesome and I love being able to work with them every day. I hope to make a positive impact in their lives on and off the court.”
Luka Slabe was the head coach over several professional teams in Slovenia and Austria before he came back to BYU as a new assistant coach to the BYU men’s volleyball team.
“I like places with vision,” Slabe said. “I like places with people who support (you) and say, ‘Hey, I trust you and believe in you. This is what you have. Go do your job.’ That’s what I need. I need a challenge.”
Slabe was first introduced to BYU when he was a member of the Junior National team in Slovenia. He remembers being approached by a gentleman who asked if he’d be interested in playing volleyball in the states and going to school. Slabe received a package from different universities a couple of weeks after this encounter. He knew right away that BYU was the place for him.
Slabe played on the men’s volleyball team from 2000-2003. Slabe and his teammates won the NCAA National Championship in 2001 which he considers to be one of highlights of his career.
Now as a coach, Slabe spends much of his time planning practices with the head coach, communicating between offices and medical staff and setting goals for the upcoming season. The demands on his time require sacrifice and priorities, but it is something Slabe is willing to work towards.
“I like to win,” Slabe said.
Slabe firmly believes that consistency is what sets successful athletes apart.
“Consistency is the most important part about playing and coaching and in anything you do in your life,” Slabe said. “It’s really hard to achieve that and only the greatest can figure out how to do that. I’m still getting there.”
His experience as a former BYU and professional athlete and coach will provide a depth of knowledge for the upcoming teams. Slabe had great success in Slovenia and coached some of the best volleyball players in Europe but felt that BYU was where he needed to be. He’s both interested and eager to help them develop both as athletes and as better human beings when they leave BYU.
“I’ve always been a proud Cougar,” Slabe said. “Being a Cougar really sticks with you the rest of your life. I’ve always been a big fan and follower of this university.”