Announced last Thursday by the Nittany Lions Athletic Department, Walsh will become the third coach in the eleven-year history of the Penn State women’s soccer.
The U-17 national head coach and Huntington Valley, Pa. native returns home to lead a Nittany Lion squad, which has won nine straight Big Ten titles and, just last year, advanced to the NCAA Quarterfinals after compiling an 18-5-3 season under former coach Paula Wilkins.
Wilkins, head coach since 2001, announced her resignation just two weeks ago upon accepting the leading position at Wisconsin. As a result, the turnover time for both Penn State and Walsh to make a decision was short and, for Harvard, bittersweet.
“It all happened pretty quickly,” said Director of Athletic Communications Chuck Sullivan. “With the existing coach leaving Penn State, there wasn’t a whole lot of lead time for us or for them.”
Walsh will look to fill Wilkins’ shoes despite compiling only a 3-13-1 record last year with a young Crimson squad. But the inexperienced team, led by freshman goaltender and Rookie of the Year Lauren Mann and fellow first-year Ivy standout Lizzy Nichols, showed signs of progression in Walsh’s system toward the end of the 2006 campaign.
Penn State will look to harness this ability of Walsh to bring out the best in a young squad; at the same time, the Harvard squad she leaves behind will miss it.
“No one saw it coming, it wasn’t like anyone was unhappy with the coaching, everyone loved her and she’s a great coach,” Mann said. “No one was expecting that to happen, and I liked her a lot, so it was really tough for me to hear that she was leaving.”
For Mann, and other young guns of the Crimson squad, the team began to buy into Walsh’s system and saw signs that the program was on the rise.
And with a 2007 recruiting class touted as one of the tops in the Ivy, this hope seemed to be closer to a reality.
“I think it’s definitely unfortunate because she was an amazing addition to our program and our team,” Nichols said. “It really seemed like the program was moving forward.”
To top things off, Walsh becomes the second straight one-and-done coach Harvard has recruited to lead its women’s program.
Just last year, former head coach Stephanie Erickson departed in similar fashion, leaving to take the helm at her alma mater, Northwestern, where she is the all-time leading scorer at the school. She tabulated an 8-5-3 record in her one season at the Crimson helm, just barely missing an NCAA tournament birth.
The situation is unfortunate for team members who must constantly readjust upon each coming year.
“We’ve had two coaches leave for their dream jobs in the past years,” Sullivan said. “That’s just how it goes.”
But it is simply the hand these players have been dealt.
“Just the fact that it’s been three coaches in such a short span of time, the feeling of surprise and shock hits us,” Mann said. “[It’s] not towards Walsh but just anger at the situation, and some of the girls have been placed in it year after year.”
—Staff writer Walter E. Howell can be reached at email@example.com.
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