As it turns out, prospective students aren’t the only ones who have to defeat the odds to get into Harvard.
Stephanie Erickson beat out over 100 other applicants when she was named the new Harvard women’s soccer head coach on Friday, replacing longtime coach Tim Wheaton—who became an assistant athletic director earlier this year. She was tapped for the job after excelling in interviews with a search committee, the administration, and the rising team captains.
“Stephanie was a very talented player and has a proven coaching background and record,” said associate athletic director Sheri Norred, who headed the search for a new coach. “We are very confident that she is going to raise the level of our women’s soccer program.”
Erickson returns to lead a Crimson program that she was an assistant coach for in 1999, when Harvard went 14-2-1 and earned its first-ever seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
“We’re excited to have her back at Harvard,” said Wheaton. “She’s very enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the game. I think the kids will like her a great deal, and she brings a lot to the program.”
After spending the ’99 season on the Crimson staff, Erickson headed out west to assistant coach for Stanford. The Cardinals went 60-21-5 during her tenure there. She also served as interim co-head coach in 2002, when Stanford captured a national No. 1 ranking, and Erickson was honored by Soccer America as the National Coach of the Year along with co-head coach Paul Sapsford.
“She recruited me at Stanford, so I knew her a little bit,” said rising co-captain and goalkeeper Katie Shields. “She has phenomenal experience, and she understands what it takes to do well when you’re at a [high-level] academic institution and in a high-level soccer program.”
In addition to her time at Harvard and Stanford, Erickson has coaching experience at Cal and—most recently—as an assistant at her alma mater, Northwestern. As a player, Erickson was a four-year starter for the Wildcats and is the school’s all-time leading scorer.
“Having been a student-athlete at an elite academic institution has really enabled me to put myself in my kids’ shoes and be understanding of what they’re going through and be sensitive to [their] academic rigors and stresses,” said Erickson. “It’s great to have that experience both as a player and a coach at schools that are consistently [strong], both academically and athletically.”
“I had a very short list of schools that I would leave [Northwestern] to go to, and Harvard was on it,” she added.
The hiring of Erickson represents a huge shake-up for the Crimson women’s soccer program, which has seen only two head coaches since its inception in 1976. Current Nichols Family Director of Athletics Bob Scalise started the program before being replaced by Wheaton, who coached Harvard for 18 seasons.
In addition, Erickson is the first woman to serve as head coach for the Crimson women’s soccer team.
“When I was starting out, there were very few female coaches,” said Erickson. “The boom I’ve seen is inspiring. It’s totally legitimate for women to be getting great roles in coaching and athletics in general, because we’re prepared and qualified. It’s exciting, and I hope it inspires more young women to do the same.”
“I think it’s a great thing,” added rising co-captain and sophomore back Laura Odorczyk. “I’ve never even had a female coach in my whole life, and I know a lot of my [friends on other teams] have female coaches and they definitely love it. I think it’s a big change because it’s obviously easier for a woman to relate to us.”
Erickson inherits a Harvard team that last season qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001. The Crimson went 8-6-2 in the regular season and was defeated in the first round of the postseason by Connecticut.
Harvard will return 14 letterwinners for its first season under Erickson, including two Second Team All-Ivy honorees in Shields and freshman midfielder Megan Merritt.
“I really want to see the team come together and get on the same page,” said Erickson. “I think that if the players who are on the current roster and in the incoming class can do that, we will definitely be a contender for an Ivy League Championship and [be] a top team in the nation.”
Erickson describes her personality as laid-back and fun, but highly competitive. She says she’s “not a huge screamer,” choosing instead to motivate players through carefully chosen, constructive criticism.
“One of the first things someone told me is that when [Erickson] raises her voice, people listen,” said Shields. “I think that’s something that will be really beneficial for our team. She just seems really well respected in the soccer world. She definitely has a strong reputation.”
—Staff writer Jonathan P. Hay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Carrie H. Petri can be reached at email@example.com.