Coaches, who themselves were stand-out student-athletes at Geneseo, know their athletes will fit in here.
By Tim Volkmann
Sustaining success isn’t always easy, but an important component of Geneseo’s run of athletic accomplishments are our former athletes who assist the next generation of Knight athletes. Their own experiences playing on teams at Geneseo have inspired them to recommend the Knights to their own stand-out student-athletes.
Joe Zera ’05 had an All-American basketball career that recently earned him a place in the Geneseo Athletics Hall of Fame. Zera has taught math and served as the boys basketball coach for the past 13 years at his alma mater, Canisius High School in Buffalo, N.Y. One of Zera’s top players, Gordon Lyons ’15, received the coach’s support to attend Geneseo — where he excelled both on and off the court.
“The things I learned playing at Geneseo shaped a lot of what I do with my teams today,” said Zera. “Thinking back on my experiences, I knew Gordon would be the ideal student-athlete at Geneseo. Knowing what a great person he is and his work ethic, he would be a perfect fit.”
Lyons became the second player in nearly 100 years of Geneseo basketball to accumulate over 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds (surpassing his mentor in both categories) on his way to All-America recognition. He also graduated as the first two-time Academic All-American in College history.
“Because of Joe, Geneseo became a place I wanted to go,” Lyons said. “I knew he really wanted me there, but he gave me honest feedback and never pressured me. It clicked right from the start, and I loved every minute of my four years.”
By the time Isaac Garcia-Cassani ’18 removed his Geneseo track singlet for the last time, he’d amassed the most decorated career of any Geneseo student-athletes. But if it hadn’t been for his Sachem High School physics teacher and track coach Bill Holl ’07, the three-time national champion and 12-time All-American might not have even laced on a running shoe.
“I was a soccer player through my junior year in high school,” recalled Garcia-Cassani. “Coach Holl told me I should give track a try. I was absolutely terrible at first, but he saw something in me.”
A former distance runner, Holl helped Garcia-Cassani advance to a level that attracted the attention of Division I programs by the end of his senior year of high school.
“I had my Geneseo jersey hanging in the classroom, and I’d tell my students about the great experience I had,” said Holl. “I knew Isaac had the talent, but he hadn’t been running that long, and if he went to a bigger college, I feared that he might get lost in the mix. But not at Geneseo.”
Holl continued that mentorship.
“Coach Holl was coaching me the ‘Geneseo way,’” said Garcia-Cassani. “He talked about the culture of the program, and when I visited campus, it was second-to-none. Even after I committed to Geneseo, Holl stayed invested in me, not only in running, but also in physics — which we both majored in. I don’t think I could’ve had a better experience than here.”
Now, Garcia-Cassani helps inspire the next generation of runners at his high school, and is an example of what they could accomplish.
“Isaac is a great role model, too,” said Holl. “He comes back to school and the current runners look up to him. They see a guy from their school who almost broke a four-minute mile.”
Who else will Geneseo alumni who are now coaches, or continue their passion for their sport after they leave the valley, help bring to the College as the next generation? We will see.