Former teacher's gamble pays off with coaching career

Seven years ago, Spencer Allen gave up a secure teaching job for a chance at coaching college baseball.

“It was kind of risky, but it was my dream,” Allen said.

That door of opportunity opened because of his friendship with Donnie Marbut. Marbut was then the head coach at Edmonds Community College and needed an assistant. Allen left his teaching job at River Ridge High School and began chasing a dream.

“My mom thought I was nuts,” Allen said at the time.

It turns out that his mother’s diagnosis was wrong. Earlier this summer, Allen’s old friend called again, offering him another job. And now, Allen, an all-state outfielder at Capital High in the late 1990s, is an assistant coach for Marbut at Washington State University, coaching outfielders and hitters. He’s also the recruiting coordinator.

“This program is on the rise,” Allen said. “I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Allen didn’t need any introductions to two players on WSU’s roster – pitchers Connor Lambert and Seth Harvey. Allen taught both of them when they were freshmen at River Ridge High School.

“It’s funny how things work out,” Allen said.

Allen has put on some miles since coaching with Marbut at Edmonds. He coached at Iowa and Creighton, was the Northwest area scout for the Detroit Tigers for two seasons, and coached hitters and catchers at Purdue for the past two years.

When associate head coach Travis Jewett left WSU for Arizona State after last season, Marbut called his old friend and offered him a position on the Cougars’ coaching staff.

“Donnie gave me my first job at Edmonds,” Allen said. “I had some good experiences coaching with him. Working with people you know and trust is a big thing,”

There’s now an obvious southwest Washington connection on WSU’s coaching staff. Marbut is from Aberdeen. Pitching coach and head assistant coach Gregg Swenson is from Olympia and played baseball at Olympia High in the late 1980s.

Four WSU players also are from South Sound – Harvey, Lambert, Capital graduate Matt Fanelli and Olympia grad Adam Conley.

After playing baseball at Iowa State and coaching in the Midwest for much of his career, Allen is happy to be back in Washington.

“It’s tough getting into the Pac-10,” Allen said. “I’m lucky to have people who believe in me.”

Last spring, WSU reached the NCAA playoffs for the first time since 1990. The Cougars did that with Northwest talent.

“I’d say 90 percent of the players on our roster are from Washington,” Allen said. “That says a lot about baseball in the area. Our goal recruiting-wise is to dominate the state.”

WINNING PACKAGE: During the first two years of Saint Martin’s soccer program, the SMU men’s and women’s teams were familiar with moral victories. But wins on the scoreboard were difficult to come by.

That’s what makes the teams’ combined 9-5 start this season so satisfying for Saints coach Rob Walker, a Saint Martin’s graduate.

The Saint Martin’s women split a pair of 1-0 overtime decisions last week, losing to Humboldt State and defeating Grand Canyon on a goal by Kayci Donatelli. That dramatic win gave the SMU women a 4-2 record.

The SMU men squeezed out three wins last week, beating Humboldt State 4-3, Whitman 2-0 and Pacific Lutheran 3-1. That improved the Saints’ record to 5-3.

Coming into the season, Walker, the head coach for the men’s and women’s teams, was 8-28-3 as the women’s coach and 9-27-1 as the men’s coach – 17-55-4 overall.

STILL RUNNING: John Riak isn’t finished winning races.

Riak, the Saint Martin’s graduate and former NCAA Division II national qualifier in cross country, won Saturday’s Bank to Bay, a 10-kilometer run in Tacoma.

Gail Wood: 360-754-5443