DALLAS — College athletics are in Robert Wingert’s blood.
The first-year Misericordia head men’s volleyball coach has been around college athletics his entire life. And now, at just 23 years old, he’s taking another step deeper into the family business.
Wingert’s father, Phil, has been with Wilkes University for the last 36 years, including 27 of them as the men’s head soccer coach. He retired from the position after the 2016 season to take over full time as the school’s associate athletic director.
Like his father, Wingert has always wanted to be in college athletics and aspires to be in collegiate athletic administration.
Leading the volleyball program is his first step.
“I grew up in a college locker room,” Wingert said. “When I was seven and eight years old, those guys were my heroes even though they were Division 3 athletes. Whether it was running lines at the game or working the clock or doing the camera, it was just always so neat for me to be involved around the program.
“Being able to watch my dad, and even (former Misericordia men’s soccer) coach (Chuck) Edkins, who I’ve had a long-time relationship with, and being able to see the way they do things, has been a big influence on not only how I want to coach on the sideline, but how I want to build my program and what I want it to be.”
The Holy Redeemer alum will face an uphill battle this season.
It’s the program’s first year, and his first as a head coach. Though, Wingert did spend the 2016 season as a graduate assistant on the women’s volleyball team before being named the head coach for both programs in the summer.
The Cougars are playing in the Middle Atlantic Conference, which is also in its first year, with two other first-year programs in Messiah College and Widener University. Misericordia will also be joined by the rival Colonels.
Obstacles aside, the Cougars have high expectations for themselves this season.
“Well, we’re ranked fifth in our conference (preseason poll) and we would like to get into the championship at least, especially because we have the talent,” Misercordia setter Bailey Brugler said. “We just have to figure out how to get it into the right systems. We have a great coach behind us all.”
Even though he’s the new coach on the block in the MAC, Wingert has a wealth of college experience to delve into this season.
Wingert played in the Division III Final Four and was a second-team AVCA All-American as a senior at fellow MAC-rival Stevenson. He’s already gone through his first season as a head coach with the women’s program this fall. And, of course, he always has his father’s brain that he can continue to pick.
“For me to finally be able to put my own stamp on something is truly special,” Wingert said. “Since I was a setter in college, I’m really into offense and high-octane side and out, and all that kind of stuff. We’re definitely an offense-focused team with ball control and stuff along those lines. Our big goal is to play clean volleyball, be a hard-working group — kind of like a blue-collar team.”
Wingert couldn’t ask for a better cast of characters to be in his corner this season.
Out of his 10 players, seven are freshmen — including the talented trio of fellow Holy Redeemer alum Michael Mohutsky, New Jersey outside hitter Ryan Miller and three-time Florida state champion Matt Churchill — one sophomore, one junior and one senior.
But the Cougars’ lone junior is Brugler, who played on the Misericordia men’s basketball team as a freshman and sophomore. He appeared in 12 games with the Cougars during his basketball career.
“I’ve known him since I’ve been in sixth grade and I’ve always looked up to him because at Redeemer not a lot of us got the MVP of the season and he did it. I just thought that was fantastic,” Mohutsky said of Wingert. “He was a humongous factor, actually, because I was looking at a bunch of other places, but they didn’t seem to fit what I wanted and then I saw this and I just knew.”
The 2017-18 campaign includes plenty of potential firsts.
The Cougars’ first win. Their first win at home and first win on the road. Their first winning streak. Maybe even a winning season or berth in the MAC tournament. Misericordia was voted to finish fifth in the conference this season, and the top four make the tournament.
For the 10 Cougars, that was part of the allure to come to Misericordia in the first place.
Now all the hay is in the barn and their first game is finally within sight.
Misericordia hosts Neumann University in the inaugural Cougars Kick-Off Classic at 4 p.m. Friday at the Anderson Center.
“We’re the ones who get to write the history books and every one that follows, they just follow in our footsteps,” Miller said. “That’s one of the great things about coming here as a first-year program. We get to write the history.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle