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Championship experience comes to Albany High

April 22, 2015

by Justin Porreca

Albany High has added a new, young coach to its baseball staff who brings a background of championship coaching success.

Head coach Justin Pruiksma swings away with his Big Three From Left: Sophomore Noah John, Sophomore Devin Hunt, Coach Pruiksma and Sophomore Ari Levy/Justin Porreca

Head coach Justin Pruiksma swings away with his Big Three
From Left:
Sophomore Noah John, Sophomore Devin Hunt, Coach Pruiksma and Sophomore Ari Levy/Justin Porreca

Justin Pruiksma, 24, took over the junior varsity boys’ baseball program on March 9 from Jack Grogan, who moved up to help coach the varsity squad.

“When Kathy Ryan came to me, I told her that from what I’ve seen from this young man in coaching, he’s very positive, structured, he has coaching plans he sticks to and he writes up his own coaching directions,” said Leslie Bogucki, who teaches physical education and mentored Pruiksma. “I told her he is the kind of coach you want to get involved, he is going to improve their skills, he’s going to make the players better and develop the program.”

“I went over and met with Justin and really liked the things I was hearing from him and thought he would be a good fit for our program,” said Ryan, athletics director for the Albany School District. “I’ve liked the things I’ve seen so far, I watched an entire practice and nobody was standing around and that’s very good time management, it shows he is well prepared for a practice and that he has a plan.”

After serving up accolades on the volleyball court, Pruiksma transitioned to spiking the competition from the sidelines.

“The richest part of my philosophy is to develop athletes and their on the field skills, but also their academics,” Pruiksma said.

His first head-coaching stint was with the Coxsackie-Athens boys’ junior varsity and varsity volleyball teams in the 2011-2012 season. He coached the varsity boys’ to a Section II championship and led them to the New York State Regional class C/D championship game where they loss to Mount Markham. Pruiksma would take a hiatus from coaching after that, but comeback to coach the Coxsackie-Athens boys’ modified soccer team in the fall of 2014 and the varsity boys’ volleyball team for the 2014-2015 season.

Now, after being six years removed from baseball, Pruiksma is back to coach the game he loves most. “I consider myself a baseball player at heart, so it’s great to be around the game again,” he said. Past coaches are rooting him on and have tremendous support for him, they feel he will excel and lead the program to victory.

Coach Pruiksma and the junior varsity boys huddle up to go over practice and what the team needs to improve before their double-header next Saturday/Justin Porreca

Coach Pruiksma and the junior varsity boys huddle up to go over practice and what the team needs to improve before their double-header next Saturday/Justin Porreca

“I wouldn’t expect anything but success from him. It’s really his commitment and dedication, I’m sure he sets goals for himself as a coach to work toward and also goals for his team,” said Matthew Seekamp, his former English teacher and varsity volleyball coach. “I saw first hand having him as a player, watching him push and challenge himself, he wasn’t going to let himself bring anything but his best effort, so I’m sure that is how he will approach his coaching duties and his career.”

Pruiksma’s former varsity soccer and baseball coach, Curtis Wilkinson, also shared his support for his ex-player.

“I think coaching him allowed him to see the way I coached, I have a rapport with the kids, I’m disciplined, but at the same time I try to make it as fun as I can for them,” he said. “He kind of modeled himself off of that and his other coach, Matthew Seekamp, and he took a little here and a little there and developed it into his own coaching style.”

Despite only being the head coach for three weeks, Pruiksma’s players have already developed respect for him and believe he will lead them to success.

“He’s very motivating to players and he always tries to get the best out of us,” said sophomore Ari Levy. “He’s been doing a really great job so far and I think he’s going to take us to a couple wins and a really great season.”

Justin Pruiksma coaching up sophomore catcher, Ari Levy, on his blocking technique in his first week as head coach/Justin Porreca

Justin Pruiksma coaching up sophomore catcher, Ari Levy, on his blocking technique in his first week as head coach/Justin Porreca

Sophomore, Noah John, also has high praise for his new coach and the work he’s put in to improve the team.

“A lot of coaches have the same thing they tell to each player, but coach, he’s pretty good with working with each guy individually and not feeding the same advice to every player.”

In his short time with the junior varsity boys’, Pruiksma has been helping players with their tools and techniques. He has been working with players to improve their throwing mechanics and swings, so they can reach their full potential.

“He helped me a lot with my swing. Before I was dropping my shoulder a lot and this happened last year to, and he’s helped me get rid of that and make me more of a line drive hitter,” said sophomore Devin Hunt.

Pruiksma and the junior varsity baseball squad picked up their first victory of the season Monday in a close 2-1 game versus Troy High School. It marked his first win as a baseball coach. Ian Boldiston threw six innings of one run ball and Andre Torres came in for the save. Junior varsity’s next game is a double-header Saturday at Chatham High School and then at Ichabod Crane.

Despite teaching becoming a hazardous occupation to get into because of the miniscule job opportunities and pay, it never deterred Pruiksma away from changing kids lives for the better.

“Pay has never been a factor, it’s what I love to do. What I do giving back to the community, the athletes and students far exceeds the pay,” he said.

Student teaching at the Albany School of Humanities, Pruiksma made an immediate impact on his young students and Bogucki. His student teaching position came to an end two weeks ago and when it was all said and done she felt that he was one of best student teachers she’s had in over 15 years of sponsoring a teacher.

“They just warmed right up to him, they loved him, they loved coach P, that’s what they called him, and he was really good with them,” Bogucki said. “From tying shoes, getting ice packs and giving encouragement, they really enjoyed him.”

Pruiksma grew up in Greene County, and is the youngest of two siblings. He still currently resides in his hometown of Athens, with his parents, where he commutes to college and practice everyday.

In May, Pruiksma will graduate from Sage College of Albany with his teaching degree and become a certified physical education teacher in the State of New York. A 2009 graduate of Coxsackie-Athens High School, he would go onto attend Hudson Valley Community College in the fall of 2009. After spending two and a half years at Hudson Valley, Pruiksma transferred to Sage College of Albany in the fall of 2012.

“I didn’t always want to be a teacher, but I took leadership roles as a Boy Scout and captain for my soccer and volleyball teams,” said Pruiksma. “I was a senior in high school and I was thinking about different majors and physical education and coaching was just something that interested me.”

An accomplished three-sport athlete and scholar while attending Coxsackie-Athens, Pruiksma played soccer, volleyball, and baseball, each for four years. He along with Wilkinson slowly rebuilt the soccer program into a Patroon Conference powerhouse.

“His senior year, when we made Sectionals, that was it, that was a tremendous moment for the two of us, because of all the hard work that we put into it,” Wilkinson said.

Despite being a dominant player on the diamond and pitch, Pruiksma excelled on the volleyball court.

He was a high school volleyball standout for Coxsackie-Athens. Pruiksma has numerous high-profile accolades on his resume, despite initially never wanting to play the game.

After being cut from the junior varsity basketball team in his freshman year, he was invited to go to an open gym volleyball session where varsity volleyball coach, Matthew Seekamp, approached him to try out for the team. Pruiksma made it and blossomed into a superstar overnight.

A four-year varsity contributor, he was head captain and team MVP twice. Pruiksma ultimately shined brightest in 2009. As a senior, he won the Patroon Conference MVP, Times Union Volleyball Player of the Year and Greene County Courier Athlete of the Year. He was also the key contributor to his teams overall success. Coxsackie-Athens won the 2009 Patroon Conference Championship, Section II Championship and were the New York State Regional class C/D champions.

In his tenure with Sage College, Pruiksma played volleyball for the Gators as an outside hitter.

Coach Pruiksma and his junior varsity boys’ break it down after a tough Wednesday practice/Justin Porreca

Coach Pruiksma and his junior varsity boys’ break it down after a tough Wednesday practice/Justin Porreca

Outside the diamond, hitting the books and teaching, Pruiksma is an avid outdoorsman and dabbles in photography He likes to hunt waterfowl, specifically ducks and geese. With either his GoPro or Canon camera, Pruiksma takes outdoor photos of wildlife, hunting and other various activities he enjoys with friends. Along with friend, Jordan Davenport, they launched Detour Outdoors in May 2013. They use this outlet to showcase their outdoor activities through imagery taken out in the field. He also likes to spend time with his pride and joy, his eight-year-old black Labrador.

“This is a learning experience and a challenge, but I have tremendous support from my parents, girlfriend and family and I’m looking forward to it,” Pruiksma said. -30-

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