Jessica Bridenthal and Justin Fawley will be assistant coaches on the Hillsdale track and field teams this year. (Alexis Daniels | Col­legian)

When Chargers track and field head coach Andrew Towne met with prospective assistant coaches Justin Fawley and Jessica Bridenthal, it didn’t take long for him to realize they were a good fit for Hillsdale.  

“As we moved through the interview process, we felt like they both appre­ciated the mission of Hillsdale College,” Towne said in an email. “I think they will do a good job of con­necting with our current ath­letes and recruiting prospective student-ath­letes.”

Fawley, a 2015 Hillsdale graduate, and Bridenthal, a Highland Games champion, are both from Akron, Ohio. Hillsdale reached their radars after they both exper­i­mented with coaching and got their masters degrees. 

For Fawley, returning to Hillsdale to coach was “a very easy decision.” 

“It’s the people,” Fawley said. “I think there’s a lot of growth that hap­pened here, so being in a place that con­stantly chal­lenged me to be better is part of the reason I knew that that would con­tinue into pro­fes­sional devel­opment.”

Growing up, Fawley “played a season of every­thing,” and espe­cially enjoyed soccer, track, and wrestling. In college, however, the track was where he felt he fit best. He credits his high school track coach for encour­aging his pursuit of the sport. He always approached Fawley at his older brother’s ath­letic events.

“Every time he’d see me,” Fawley said, “He’d be like, ‘Hey, you’re gonna run track and cross country, right?’ He was always on me about that.”

Fawley earned several all-con­ference honors during his time at Hillsdale, both in the decathlon out­doors and the hep­tathlon indoors. He also qual­ified to compete in the decathlon at the NCAA Cham­pi­onship meet in his last season.

“He also has a very impressive high-jump and pole vault per­sonal record,” David Chase, a former teammate of Fawley’s, said in an email. “I expect him to bring a fresh per­spective to the jumps and multi­group as well as have a unique under­standing on how Hillsdale student-ath­letes operate.”

Aside from his track and coaching careers, Fawley has “hopped around” many dif­ferent jobs. Most have been on the ath­letic scene, but his job as a barista at a Hillsdale roastery this past summer allowed him to ded­icate time to his second love: coffee.

“One of my biggest hobbies is just brewing coffee in dif­ferent ways and writing notes about it,” Fawley said. “And every summer in college, I would go home and…my dad and I would go out on the porch and drink it and we’d come back in and make more.”

As an assistant coach, Fawley said he hopes to push his ath­letes to be the best they can be.

“I want to set my ath­letes up for good lives after grad­u­ation, and being the best they can be ath­let­i­cally, per­sonally, and pro­fes­sionally,” he said.

Joining Fawley on the coaching staff and in the same office is Bridenthal, who attended Ashland Uni­versity, a rival school of Hillsdale’s. There, she com­peted in track and throwing as an under­graduate student. After coaching at Key­stone College in Penn­syl­vania, she saw that the position at Hillsdale was open. She con­tacted a friend and former throwing teammate from Ashland who had come to Hillsdale to coach.

“I was very familiar with Hillsdale on the ath­letic aspect of things and they had a great track program here,” she said. “I’m really excited to be a part of that.”

Bridenthal also enjoyed a variety of sports growing up, and before her sophomore year in college, she mostly focused on vol­leyball and bas­ketball. She played bas­ketball until her sophomore year at Ashland, when she tore her ACL and switched to track. She then began to fall in love with the “indi­vidual aspect” of track.

“You’re as good as you really want to be,” she said. “You control your own destiny, you put in the time, the hard work, how you eat … it’s all on you.”

Over the course of her career, Bridenthal has been a regular com­petitor in Highland Games and a coach in track and field. She con­siders some of her biggest per­sonal accom­plish­ments to be winning the world cham­pi­onship last year in Highland and winning the national cham­pi­onship in track and field. In fact, she still travels all over North America and com­petes in pro­fes­sional Highland Games, which she said is an “old, weird version of track” where com­petitors flip tele­phone poles and throw various objects.

“Coach Bridenthal is a very tal­ented thrower and is very pas­sionate about the sport,” senior Dana Newell said. “She knows how to train and under­stands how to help her ath­letes be the best throwers they can.”

Off the track, Bridenthal enjoys reading and spending time with her cats.

Looking back on her career tra­jectory, Bridenthal said she draws her inspi­ration from her mom and her college coach, saying they taught her what success meant.

“My mom has def­i­nitely helped me develop into the person, the athlete that I am,” she said. “Just teaching me what it really takes to be suc­cessful. And my coach in college took me through all the little things it takes to be great.”

Bridenthal’s goal as a coach is to do the same for her ath­letes.

“I’m hoping to con­tinue some of the ath­letic excel­lence that we have seen here the past few years,” she said. “What are you willing to sac­rifice to be great, to reach what your goals really are?”