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?”