05/31/06 — T.J. Lancaster dedicated to alma mater

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T.J. Lancaster dedicated to alma mater

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on May 31, 2006 2:43 PM

If you have seen an Aycock softball game over the last few years, chances are you have seen coach David West get pumped up.

He might try to wave a foul ball fair with his hands -- ala Carlton Fisk -- or often is pacing back and forth outside the dugout when his team is in the field in a close game. Enthusiastic high fives from coach to player are common place.

It's his style and it obviously works.

But from time to time, West even himself admits, he needs to be brought back down to earth.

Enter assistant coach T.J. Lancaster -- an Aycock graduate and currently a student at East Carolina.

"I try to keep David sane for the most part," Lancaster joked. "He will tell you the same thing, he gets a little out of hand and crazy sometimes. That's just how he is."

But that's far from the loyal assistant's only job.

The stats the Golden Falcons submitted to the N.C. High School Athletic Association before heading to the final four, Lancaster tallied them. The field work that has to be done before every practice and game, Lancaster tends to it. When Jazzmine Lee made a diving catch in shallow right field against Wilson Fike in the playoffs, Lancaster had her in position to make that grab.

"He's serious about what he does. He works hard at it, and he's got his role on the team like anybody else," West said. "He's got first base to coach and stats to keep up with. He's very conscientious about his job, doesn't let a lot get by him and he works with these outfielders all the time to put them in the right position."

Lancaster isn't the lone assistant on Aycock's staff. Carrie Reynell, a former Barton College player, gives West an assistant with valuable collegiate playing experience.

"She knows the technical parts of the game," West said of Reynell. "She gives 110 percent as a coach and that helps us a lot. The girls respect her and connect with her. Sometimes if I or T.J. can't get something across, she can.

"It's great to have two people like I've got helping."

Lancaster, also an assistant girl's basketball and volleyball coach, wasn't quite sure of his career path as a junior in high school in 2000 when he first started to assist with the softball program -- then coached by Al Yelverton and Gary Hales. Once he started working with the players and coaches, it didn't take him long to realize his future direction.

"I never really wanted to coach, then I caught 'the bug' from Al and Gary," said Lancaster, who is making his fifth trip to the final four as an assistant. "From them on, I knew what I wanted to do. Since I graduated in '01, I've been driving back and forth to Greenville. It's the best thing I've ever done."

He has seen the game, more specifically the players, change quite a bit in a fairly short amount of time. In 2000, fast-pitch softball was a relatively new sport at the high school level. Six years later and with the rise in popularity in year-round, travel softball, Lancaster finds himself coaching a more-refined player.

"A lot of these girls are playing when they get out of the cradle. Most of them live and breath it," he said. "You sometimes forget that. You're trying not to infringe on what they've already learned but also trying to implement some new things."

Obviously, Lancaster has seen talented softball teams come through Aycock in the past. But he believes this team is more balanced, top-to-bottom than any.

"Overall, this is the best team," he said. "We've had some really good players in the past, but these are the best defensive players and some of the best hitters. We've never had six players hitting .300.

"Some of them have been two or three times (to Walnut Creek), and I think they truly want it."

Lancaster will begin his student teaching next year out of the county but hopes to continue gaining valuable experience as an assistant at Aycock as he finishes his degree.

There seems to be no doubt that he will always be welcome.

"He's a valuable edition to softball, basketball and volleyball," West said. "He's given the whole athletic program a bolster."