After it was announced that Laurie Schiller would be stepping down as Northwestern's fencing coach following the upcoming season after 38 years at the helm, I got the chance to interview Zach Moss, current fencing assistant and official successor to Schiller.
Peter Elliott: How has Laurie Schiller helped build this historic fencing program?
Zach Moss: Coach Schiller’s career at Northwestern has been really unique and remarkable in that he has guided a program from its inception to a perennial top-10 program. His experience and willingness to constantly learn has allowed him to adapt as the sport has developed. It fits how the team is training with what is being done at the highest level. Likewise, his ability to draw not only high level recruits, but those under the radar prospects who blossomed into All-Americans has been uncanny. Simply put, his ability to use the resources available to their maximum potential has been key in his career at Northwestern.
PE: What are your thoughts on becoming Schiller's successor following this year's campaign?
ZM: I’m truly honored and grateful for the opportunity given to me by Dr. Phillips. I’m excited for the opportunity to take over such a successful program and to be able to be a head coach at Northwestern in particular. This program has already achieved such tremendous success under Coach Schiller. I believe that I have the opportunity to be able to take what he has established and build towards even greater heights. But, while I’m looking forward to next season and my new role, right now our focus is on this year. We have a great team and are looking forward to building off our very successful 2014-15 season.
PE: Did you talk to Laurie before or after the announcement was made Saturday?
ZM: Yes, Laurie and I have been in communication about the eventual transition pretty much constantly. When he hired me as his assistant coach, he hoped that one day I would be able to take over the program for him. So, we have been working throughout my time at Northwestern to make sure that I am as prepared as possible for the eventual transition.
PE: How are you feeling for this season and what do you have to say about the fine group of girls you will help lead this year?
ZM: I’m really excited about this season. Last year was one of the better years in program history and we returned all of our starters, so we’re really looking forward to see what this season brings. We’ve increased the strength of our schedule and are excited to see how our team responds once we start competing in our college season. So far, things have gone really well and the season is looking very promising.
PE: Basketball coach Chris Collins also came from Duke to Northwestern for a coaching job. Are there any similarities between you two and have you been able to speak to him yet?
ZM: I’d say there are probably a number of similarities between Coach Collins and I. Both having come from Duke, we both have a strong understanding of the importance of the student-athlete and that academics are a very important part of why our athletes come to Northwestern. Likewise, we both played for iconic coaches at Duke University. Coach K is well known, but the fencing coach at Duke, Alex Beguinet, has been there for 30 years and has guided a program with tremendous success. Being able to get to know and work with Coach Beguinet had a profound impact on my decision to work towards becoming a fencing coach and a college coach in particular. I suspect being able to work with Coach K had a similar effect on Coach Collins. While I have spoken with Coach Collins before, I have not had an opportunity to speak with him since I was announced as Coach Schiller’s successor.
PE: And finally, how will you lead Wildcat fencing in the future?
ZM: My focus will be to provide our student-athletes with a world class experience. We will work towards team success and recruit those who fit in with our team goals and culture. But, I want to make sure that every fencer who comes to Northwestern is able to fulfill their academic goals as well as their athletic goals. We will be a team built on respect, trust, and hard work.
My thanks to Zach for granting this interview, and best of luck this season!