Small-town USA tends to call its kids by their first name and middle name all as one...you know...Jenny Lynn, Lisa LouAnn, Bobby Jake. Known by the entire town of Groesbeck, Texas - population 4,092 - as Lauren Gail, this small-town girl is now one of DFW's most notable woman in sports. Southern Methodist University (SMU) named this three-time high school tennis doubles state champion their head women's tennis coach in 2006, making her the youngest Division I women's tennis coach in the country at the time. Now known professionally as Coach Lauren Longbotham-Meisner, the 2009 Conference USA Coach of the Year makes our most interesting list for several reasons.
First thing's first. When Longbotham-Meisner won her championship titles back in high school, she did so as a Groesbeck Goat. Their school mascot is actually a Goat. The Groesbeck Goats were coached by Longbotham-Meisner's father, Jim Longbotham, and they developed a victorious team without the amenities of most of their competition. Resources in Groesbeck were limited. In order to rise to the top, the girls had to travel 45 minutes to Waco or almost two hours to Dallas to find competition to practice against. Despite the challenges, Longbotham-Meisner understood and accepted that being the underdog meant working harder and finding ways to make herself better. All of that was OK with her because she likes being the underdog. She likes to work because she likes to win.
But what makes this woman a real champ - and interesting of course - is her will to overcome obstacles that would set lesser people back. Two weeks after winning the state championship her senior year in 1999, doctors discovered a tumor of significant concern in Longbotham-Meisner's neck. She was in surgery two weeks later, and back on the tennis court the day she was released from doctor's care; it was that simple.
That next challenge came in 2001 when - during another routine exam - doctors found pre-cancerous cells, and it was back to surgery. But once again, that underdog attitude allowed her to overcome.
When SMU Athletic Director Steve Orsini hired Longbotham-Meisner in 2006, it's fair to say he may have done so out of convenience. It was his first year in the role and he had bigger fish to fry with a failing football program and a head men's basketball coach position to fill. Little did he know that the young woman he took a chance on would turn out to produce the most winningest program during his reign so far, and the winningest women's tennis season in SMU's school history.
Longbotham-Meisner was already employed at SMU working as the assistant women's tennis coach - one of three jobs she worked for three years. When the head coach position became available, SMU administrators who had watched Longbotham-Meisner work relentlessly convinced Orsini to make the hire.
Her championship coaching style may be considered unique. At times when other competition was hitting the courts, Longbotham-Meisner chose to rest her girls. She reads them like a book. She understands their complex stories and knows that their life's challenges impact their play. That's why she only recruits players who she's witness lose. She wants to see how a potential player of hers will handle themselves in situations where they aren't on top. She wants girls who are absolutely resilient in all they do, players - whether she realizes it or not - similar to herself; resilient. She strives to be a role model to her girls, and to all woman who want to pursue a career in sports.
Next up for Longbotham-Meisner? A national championship. Already under her helm, the team has posted some impressive accolades, this past season being the most notable:
- broke the SMU all-time season winning record with a 28-3 showing
- notched a program-best winning streak of 18 matches
- advanced to the second round of the NCAA championships
- went undefeated against all Conference USA competition
But what would this resilient, tumor-beating, championship-winning, small-town underdog do if she wasn't winning championships? She and her husband would move to Horb, Germany whey they'd open a cupcake shop and live off of the land...although, she doesn't know how to bake. This champ has a sense of humor too.