New Coach Poses Familiar Obstacle

If forgetting last season’s 3-13-1 record wasn’t enough, the Harvard women’s soccer team now has another challenge to face in preparation for the 2007 season: adjusting to its third coach in under a calendar year.

The Athletics Department announced last Thursday that Ray Leone, formerly the head coach of Arizona State University (ASU), will take over as the head coach of the women’s soccer program. The position had been vacant since February 12, when former coach Erica Walsh announced her resignation to take the head coaching position at Penn State. Walsh began at Harvard last July after Stephanie Erickson resigned to accept the head coaching position at Northwestern.

“I cannot wait to meet the team and start working with them this spring,” Leone said in an e-mail, Monday. “I have only met a few, but they are motivated and seem very together as a unit.”

The team will certainly have to stick together as it looks to establish a long-term relationship with its new head coach—Erickson and Walsh stayed for only a season each.

But while coaching changes might have proved a bit of a distraction for the team in the past year, the Crimson continues to concentrate on soccer—it is training intensely in an attempt to build on a disappointing 2006 campaign.

“You can’t worry about what you can’t change—only what you can control right now,” junior forward Megan Kerr said. “We’re thinking about getting better as soccer players and we’ll see what happens when [Leone] gets here.”

“How we would adjust to a new coach was certainly a worry of mine as a leader,” added co-captain Nicole Rhodes, who, along with outgoing captain Laura Odorcyzk, interviewed Leone before the Department made him an offer. “But our team has responded to so much adversity, and we’re really training harder than ever right now.”

Despite the difficult adjustment to coaching changes, the Crimson has reason to be excited about Leone’s arrival in Cambridge. He brings an impressive resume from 16 seasons in women’s collegiate soccer, ranking 24th among active head coaches in NCAA Division I with 192 career victories. In his six seasons at ASU, Leone posted a 60-45-1 record.

His decision to leave the Pac-10—a conference that sent four teams to the NCAA tournament—for the Ivy League might have seemed puzzling to some. But the coach’s commitment to excellence on and off the field—his teams achieved the highest overall grade point average of ASU’s 22 varsity squads—made Harvard a natural choice.

“[Leone] has put a strong emphasis on the academic accomplishments of his program: not because anyone asked him to, but because he feels strongly that it should be an integral part of the soccer experience,” said Sherri Norred, Associate Director of Athletics and head of the Department’s search for a new head coach. “He established high academic standards, and he did it on his own accord. In that sense, it was a great fit with the Harvard and Ivy League philosophy.”

“To me, this was a lifetime opportunity to work at the best school in the world,” Leone said. “I expect us to play with Harvard pride every time we put on the uniform.”

Geography and family considerations also played roles in bringing Leone to Cambridge, as he has relatives in the New England area and will bring his wife on board as a member of his coaching staff. The husband-wife coaching dynamic is just another change to which the Crimson will have to adjust.

“We were all surprised by [Walsh’s] decision to leave, but once we met Ray we were pretty excited about this season,” Rhodes said. “He wants to build this program back up and get it back to where it used to be—the ultimate goal of winning an Ivy championship.”

—Staff writer Emily W. Cunningham can be reached at ecunning@fas.harvard.edu

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