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South Kitsap graduate takes on new adventure
TACOMA — It might have been a perplexing decision for outsiders.
But to those that know Greg Pickard as an analytical and inquisitive 2010 South Kitsap graduate, his decision to leave his role as an assistant boys basketball coach with the Wolves in December to lead Pacific Lutheran University’s women’s lacrosse program made sense.
Pickard, 22, who last summer completed his bachelor’s degree in geosciences at PLU a year ahead of schedule, has a steadfast desire to explore new frontiers. Through his studies, that has ranged from glaciers on Mount Rainier to the vast Australian desert.
While he still enjoys basketball and football — the sports he grew up playing — they had become too familiar. The proliferation of both sports on TV coupled with his longtime participation left Pickard lacking the curiosity to explore them further.
Lacrosse was different.
It is popular enough that South has a club team, but is not recognized by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association as a sanctioned school sport. Pickard might not have found out about the game had he not received a phone call from PLU men’s lacrosse coach Greg “Bubba” Gutherless soliciting him to play midway through his freshman year.
“Within a day, this is a sport I wanted to learn how to play,” Pickard said. “It’s a lot of fun, it’s active and it’s just as physical as any of the other ones.”
Pickard played four seasons for the Lutes and developed friendships with teammates through long road trips to Pullman and Spokane. After he graduated, those teammates told him there might be an opportunity to coach PLU’s women’s team.
But Pickard was reticent to eschew another opportunity if that position did not open. Former South star L.P. Neloms, a 2007 graduate, told coach John Callaghan he was moving to Seattle after two seasons as an assistant and would not return. Callaghan was looking to mentor another young coach and Pickard was eager to begin a new challenge. After all, Pickard’s father, Brian, is the longtime principal at South Colby Elementary, while his mother, Molly, teaches developmental preschool.
Similar to his parents, Pickard is passionate about working with youth.
That made the decision to leave South difficult, but Pickard said he did not want to forego the possibility of coaching a sport he was not ready to leave after he exhausted his collegiate eligibility. He said Callaghan was aware of that and lent him support.
“Playing a sport in college definitely brings that X-factor that I wasn’t sure I initially wanted,” he said. “Right out of high school I thought I might just want a break. But it took over.”
On any given night on a turf football practice field on campus, Pickard can be found teaching the nuances of the sport. That might entail him standing and making observations and corrections, or running through the drizzle to defend a shot.
“He’s just been really dedicated, which is really, really nice as a new program,” said captain Kendall Daugherty, a junior. “We need a lot of consistency.”
The old adage is that coaching positions do not come open if the circumstances are great. That was the case at PLU, where the Lutes went winless last season. Pickard’s youthful squad only has won once this season — a 17-7 victory Feb. 22 against Central Washington.
“There’s quite a learning curve for lacrosse,” Daugherty said.
The issues extend beyond inexperience, though. Lacrosse requires a dozen players on the field, which matches the total number in PLU’s program.
“It makes that difficult when you’re playing against teams that have constantly fresh legs in,” Pickard said.
That challenge is accentuated when the Lutes play two or three matches in a weekend. But Pickard does not want to make excuses. He said the CWU win shows that PLU can overcome obstacles.
“I think they’re starting to believe that we can do this,” he said. “If we all come together, we can be something incredible.”
Pickard, who lives near campus, hopes to retain his position even as he transitions into the professional world. He wants to showcase his experiences, including one where he traveled with a group of scientists to map glacial subsurfaces on Mount Rainier using “this giant box with skis across the surface” of a glacier that helped determined how thick the ice layer was.
“On that project in particular, we were trying to identify whether or not the glaciers are receding,” Pickard said. “Even as temperature increases, there’s going to be a point where melt water decreases because there’s simply not enough ice to melt. That has impacts on everything from hydroelectric plants to water resource management to irrigation downstream. We were looking to figure out where we were in that cycle.”
On another project in Australia, Pickard said he was dropped off with others “in the middle of nowhere at 7 a.m.” They were told to arrive at a certain GPS coordinate by the end of a day that he said entailed hiking, mapping and exploring.
The latter element even provides some symmetry between his passions.
“There’s the team dynamic in this game,” Pickard said. “And we rely on each other when we’re up on the mountain collecting samples.”