Spencer Smith had to wait to get his first win after his Winthrop women's soccer team began the season with an 0-7-1 record.
But his Lady Eagles have gone 5-1-1 in the Big South since, thanks in large part to some of Smith's coaching decisions. The coach and players seem to have gotten beyond the getting-to-know-you stage. They are winning and having fun.
Eagles baseball coach Tom Riginos just put the wraps on his first fall practice, concluding with the Eagles playing the Winthrop World Series late last week. The first game ended in a 1-0 score. The split squad played to a scoreless 10-inning deadlock in the second contest.
A lack of runs paired with great pitching led to a coaching dilemma for Riginos. He loved that the pitching was ahead of the hitting, but at the same time he wanted to see his hitters have more success.
He got his wish in Saturday's final game, a 9-8 barnburner.
Smith and Riginos are Winthrop's newest head coaches. Both have brought renewed energy to a pair of ailing athletic programs.
Winthrop is in the thick of a Big South Conference women's soccer championship hunt. Smith's team will play for sole possession of first place at Eagle Field at 4 p.m. today against Charleston Southern.
Winthrop finishes the regular season on Saturday with a 5:30 p.m. match at home against third-place Coastal Carolina. The Chants beat Charleston Southern on Friday.
"I don't have any fear of getting off to a slow start," Riginos said Tuesday. "We are going to have our ups and downs. Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a grind. It is a long season.
"You have to look at the whole body of work and not just a piece of the schedule. That's what you see with Spencer."
As the administration had done in women's soccer, a decision was made that a coaching change was needed for the baseball team.
Riginos purposely came into the fall with "no preconceived notions or opinions" on players. He paid little attention to statistics. He wanted to evaluate the team he had inherited, one that slumped to 27-30 overall and a sixth place finish in the Big South last year.
Soccer and baseball -- tough to compare, but an interesting case study.
The question for the baseball program and its new coach is clear: Will Riginos be given the same opportunity to learn his team or will immediate wins be necessary because baseball is a more visible sport at Winthrop than women's soccer?
Women's soccer was competitive in its first eight games but had no wins to show for their play. Smith didn't let a moment go by without re-enforcing to his players they were playing good soccer.
Winthrop parents were supportive throughout the team's early struggles. They complimented Smith and his staff by saying this was now a "team."
"I told the team not to look at our record but to focus on the way we were playing," Smith said of the winless start to the season. "It helped that the players all bought into what we were doing.
"What we heard from the parents and the community was all positive. We were playing better soccer and we were getting compliments for that."
The team has been on a roll with four consecutive shutout victories. The Eagles have allowed just two goals in seven conference matches.
It was a matter of getting to know the players -- their strengths and weaknesses -- before Smith made tactical decisions. He moved co-captain Courtney Durbin from defender to forward.
He inserted freshman Anna Sammons into the lineup as a defender. The defense has been rock solid ever since.
Smith changed to a 4-4-2 alignment, with Durbin and fellow co-captain Tricia Vensel up top. Vensel said that change, in particular, "exposed the team's strength."
It took half the season to get everything squared away but Winthrop is now well on its way to securing a top-tier seed in the upcoming Big South tournament to be held at Radford on Nov. 4-7.
The wins, along with the support of the parents, are just what Winthrop athletic director Tom Hickman was looking for when he announced Smith's hiring on Feb. 9.
Smith replaced Melissa Heinz, who guided women's soccer through the program's first seven seasons. Heinz' contract was not renewed following the 2009 season. Players and parents were unhappy. The team had losing records the last two seasons.
"I think it was an instant thing. We all took to (Smith) right away," Vensel said. "Everyone is comfortable with him and all the coaches."
"It was hard and frustrating not getting any results," Durbin said. "The coaches and ourselves did a good job keeping our heads up. If it was tough on coach Smith he did a great job of not showing it to us."
Seven months later Hickman welcomed Riginos as the baseball coach.
Riginos was hired less than a month after Joe Hudak was relieved of his coaching responsibilities following a disappointing 2010 season. Hudak served as the Eagles coach for 19 seasons.
"I really like the kids a lot. They have worked extremely hard," Riginos said. "There has been learning on both ends; players and coaches. I think they understand the high-tempo I want to see in practice and on the field."
That high-tempo was evident in the Winthrop World Series as hitters sprinted all the way to the second base bag on infield pop outs. The Riginos-coached garnet team stole a fist-full of bases on Saturday.
Smith and Riginos have brought new life to programs that were sorely lacking that quality.
Smith didn't let a slow start get in the way of his team challenging for a conference championship. He was encouraged by women's soccer supporters.
Riginos and the baseball program will benefit from the same treatment.
Riginos and the Eagles begin the 2011 season Feb. 18 in San Diego. Nothing would please Riginos more than to see his team hit the ground running.