Growing up in Winston-Salem, I really didn’t know much about the hidden gem of Salem College that was just a couple miles from my house. My mom had some good friends like Mary Ann Davis and Joy Van Zandt that went to Salem. Some of my classmates from my middle school went to the Academy for high school.
When I returned from college in 2002, my former high school coach was working with a very small club team at Salem. In 2005, he gave me a call and told me he was leaving Salem and that I should apply for the job. That call changed my course and set the path for my last decade. I love several things about working at Salem and here are the most important:
Both my biological family and my soccer family are at Salem College. My wife, Katie, and I get to raise our young family (McKinley-5 and Hudson-2) in our hometown with each of our great families nearby. My second family, consisting of young women from all over the country and my assistant coaches, is the soccer team at Salem.
I started my family at the same time as I started the Salem soccer family, and I won’t ever be able to do that anywhere else. When Kim Fierke had the guts to hire a twenty-five year old with just a little bit of experience, she essentially hatched a new family for me.
When I went to my first soccer meeting in August of 2005, only five people showed up. Luckily a first year from Wisconsin and one from Alabama were two of those five and they helped me forge the path of the program, just by helping me get through that challenging first year. I had to literally go into the Refectory at Salem and find players to fill a team that could compete in our first year of games.
In just ten short years, the soccer family at Salem has grown exponentially. One of my favorite times of the year is Salem Soccer Alumnae Weekend. I see pictures of alumni games at other schools and there are only a handful of players there, and their NCAA programs have been around for decades. We are just a decade old (as a NCAA program) and we had over twenty alumnae at our last game. I am proud to see former players that are now forging careers as doctors, teachers, accountants, coaches, dentists, mothers, etc. It gives me pleasure to answer questions that I still get from former players in several categories including jobs and relationships (even though I really have no idea what I am saying most of the time in this area).
There are several small traditions that have been established here at Salem. Katie (a nurse) gets frequent questions about injuries and health from members of the team. We have gone on two international trips to Italy and Costa Rica as a team. The plan is to go every three years. Currently we are 4-1-1 against international competition.
I have had several of my good friends help me as assistant coaches like Jon Hoban and Graham Lyles. My more recent assistants are now going advancing in the coaching field like Thomas Moore recently being hired at our alma mater, Reynolds High School. I get to have my dad help me every year. I had another mentor, Mike Hollman, help me for several years. I can’t get that anywhere else. We get to put my sister’s movie theater (a/perture) on the back of our warm-up shirts every year. During preseason each year, one of our long runs goes by the house where I grew up and we stop by so my mom can give the team water.
History and Location
Imagine being able to walk out your office door and being transported back 250 years. Where else can you do that besides at Salem? Maybe William and Mary, but I can’t think of anywhere else. As a fan of history, it is great to just be able to walk out the door and walk around campus to see buildings that George Washington visited over two centuries ago. Every time you walk through our campus you can learn something new about its history. There are only a handful of schools in the entire country that are as historical and beautiful as Salem College.
As I walk through our majestic campus, I can turn north and see the skyline of my favorite city. Along that skyline is a building that my dad designed. I can walk downtown and meet my mom for lunch on Fourth or Trade Street where my dad had a vision twenty years ago of a revitalization project. I can catch a movie there at my sister’s theater, and then meet my family for pizza at Mellow Mushroom.
I can take recruits and players around Winston-Salem and show them the stomping grounds of my youth. I love telling them stories about different places in town. I drive them around and tell them about my memories like when I took a date to Reynolda Village and got us locked out forcing us to walk a mile to her house, or where I hit my first home-run at Miller Park, or where I used to hang out at the President of Wake Forest’s house.
A Winning Tradition
Every coach wants a winning program, and they aren’t being honest if they say they don’t. The NCAA has a record book that contains the best win-loss turn around as a category. Due to a silly rule, Salem’s 2007 team doesn’t qualify since we did this in the final two years of our NCAA DIII provisional membership trial, even though we did it against NCAA schools and were considered a NCAA member. Our 2006-2007 turn around not only would rank as the best ever turn around in women’s NCAA DIII soccer history, it would be the record across all three divisions. We went from 1-15 to 15-1-2 in one year, which is a turn around of 14 games and almost every team we played beat us the year before.
We have won three tournament championships, four conference regular season titles, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament twice in the ten years of the NCAA program. We are the only women’s college in the country that has been to two NCAA Tournaments in the past five years. We are the only North Carolina DIII women’s soccer program that has won at least ten games each of the past seven years. We have one of the best winning percentages in the entire South Region over the past four years (64-14-2).
We aren’t where we want to be yet, but we get better each year thanks to the legacy of the players that have already worn a Salem jersey. We are entering a much more competitive conference next year, and we won’t be happy unless we win the entire conference. We have shown that we can compete with almost any school in the entire country in Division III. We also have shown that we can compete with and beat several NCAA DII programs.
I love a challenge. I feel like I can always be challenged at Salem. Some things come easily here. When recruits step foot on campus, they are going to be hard-pressed to find a more serene campus. We have one of the best admission’s departments in the nation, and they make my recruiting job a lot easier. We have an excellent President (and President’s husband), and a faculty that helps to push our players in the classroom. We have excellent alumnae at Salem that make my life easier.
My players do much better academically than I did in high school, and you have to be a quality student to get into Salem. I have no problem telling them that I don’t just expect a NCAA qualifying 2.0 from them, but that they should shoot for a 3.0 or better every semester. Having the quality students we tend to get at our soccer program, helps to ease the academic worries other coaches might have at other institutions.
There are definitely challenges here. Some of the challenges would be experienced at any school. As a coach, you are always going to have players upset over playing time, your rules, and the way you run your program. That is part of the job. Recruiting to a small all-women’s school can be a challenge though. I always say that I would love for some big time coach to come try to recruit at a small school to see how good they actually can recruit. Recruiting is one of my favorite aspects of the job. I love the challenge that every recruit gives me, and it’s a tremendous feeling every time a prospective student commits to Salem.
My Coaching Goals
Striving to match or best our goals at Salem is something I always talk about with our team. It is important to set goals and once you achieve them to set new and more challenging ones.
We are entering a new conference that will soon consist of eighteen schools, where the majority of the schools have women’s soccer programs that have been around for much longer, with bigger budgets, better athletic facilities, and that are from co-ed schools. We don’t just want to go in and be an average team in the conference. We want to go in and win. The goal is not just to be one of the best, but to be the best team in the conference. We want to advance back to the NCAA Tournament and not just settle for making it there, but also to make a statement there.
I have personal goals as a coach as well. I want to get to 200 wins in the next six years. I have had All-South Region players, and now I would like to get some All-Americans. I want to continue to see our soccer facilities grow to match the top facilities in our region and for our game attendance to keep growing. We are about as diverse geographically and culturally as any college women’s soccer team you will find. In our first ten years we have had players from twenty-nine different states on the Salem Soccer roster. It would be great to continue to raise that number of represented states.
A lot of great things have happened for me here in my first decade at Salem and I owe a huge thanks to my players and assistant coaches. Hopefully my next decade of coaching can be just as satisfying.