Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier sports editor
On July 23, Berry announced the hire of Kathy Brown as the new head coach for the women’s soccer team. A key player when Berry last won a national championship in 1993, Brown is now determined to repeat that achievement as a coach.
The team’s previous head coach, Lorenzo Canalis, was hired the season following Brown’s graduation, in 1995. After serving for 25 years, Canalis announced his decision to retire last May, creating an opportunity Brown could not pass up.
“I loved my time at Berry and the position hasn’t been open for a very long time, so when that day came, I think the opportunity to come back was just a no-brainer for me,” Brown said. “It’s the dream job for me to be back at a place I love, environment that I love and doing a job that I love.”
A lot has changed since Brown’s playing days, as Berry has transitioned from NAIA to NCAA DIII, but she said the important values, such as commitment to the team and desire to play, are still the same. Reaching the level of success Berry knew back in her playing days is therefore the next logical step.
“I think that they’ve done well in the conference when they transitioned to division three and I’m excited to help them climb on up,” Brown said. “We won championships for NAIA and then I think it made perfect sense to play NCAA division three at Berry, and I want to win championships at that level as well.”
For the players, such as junior midfielder Vanessa Belanger, Brown’s arrival could be the catalyst for that success.
“We’re just so excited to have her and I think that she’s going to bring a lot of energy to our program,” Belanger said. “She’s going to bring competitiveness, she’s going to bring a change that we need to push our program forward to the next level.”
And a big part of that optimism comes from Brown’s past as a player, according to Belanger.
“It’s really exciting having a Berry alum come back and be our coach,” Belanger said. “She was on the national championship team and that’s really inspiring; one of the things she keeps saying is ‘let’s go get another ring’ and I think everyone’s on board with that. It’s really cool to have a strong female coach who has been successful at Berry and will hopefully bring us success too.”
Any plans for success will, however, have to be put on hold. As with all fall sports, the women’s soccer team will not be competing this fall, but Kirbi Mathews, a senior midfielder, said that might not be the worst situation given the circumstances.
“I think if there’s any year to get a new coach, this was the best year because we have this transition time, so she can get to know the program and we can get to know her, so that hopefully we get the most success in the spring,” Mathews said.
Though she said she was still disappointed not to get to jump right in, Brown agreed that the suspension of competitive play could work in her favor.
“If we had been playing right away, it would have been really hard for me,” Brown said. “I’m still learning names and I’m still learning personalities. I’m learning a lot about my girls and I think, had we been playing a regular season right away, it would’ve been really hard to pick up so quickly. It’s almost a blessing in disguise, personally, for us to have time to team-build and for me to figure out what our real needs are.”
A lack of competitive action, however, does not mean taking it easy for Brown, who has come up with a plan to keep her players engaged throughout the season. With training starting on Monday, Brown said she divided the semester into three blocks of four weeks, each with its own specific goal. The first section will focus on basics such as team-building and fitness, the second will move into technical drills and small-sided games, and the final four weeks, which she has dubbed “championship mode,” will see the team up its competitiveness. This will include challenges both on and off the pitch, and Brown said she hopes to close-out the season with an inter-squad scrimmage, organized as if it were a regular season game, to be live-streamed for parents and alumni to watch. All of this, she said, is to ensure her players stay motivated and have something to work for.
“I think that, in our situation, we have to define what we are doing this for,” Brown said. “I’m going to push the girls very hard to get ready and to get fit and to get touches on and to be great soccer players, but if they don’t see a purpose and they don’t have a season to look forward to, it’s going to be difficult.”
Senior outside-back Carson Gilliam said she was a big fan of Brown’s plans, as it is exactly what the team needs.
“I really like that setup because it helps us mentally prepare for what is coming ahead,” Gilliam said. “The last four weeks being the challenge weeks and more game-like, it helps us get in the mindset of why we’re here. We’re here to compete and to win games, so even if that’s playing ourselves or even if that’s in a drill, we’re there to win, and I think that gives us something to look forward to even if we can’t play real games right now.”
Belanger, Gilliam and Mathews all agreed that Brown’s plans highlight her desire to push her team to its limits, something they all said was quickly apparent in her coaching style. And while Mathews knows it might be tough, she said she cannot wait to get started.
“I know we’re going to get worked really hard, but I think we need that,” Mathews said. “I think she has a lot of good things planned for us and I can’t wait to see what all of that is.”
Brown acknowledged that the intensity is a crucial part of her approach, but she also said her playing days have given her the experience necessary to know when to relent.
“Some coaches are very intense, and I think my style is to push them hard enough to where they feel the pressure and the push, but that I don’t break them,” Brown said. “I want to build confidence and motivate them to play their very best, and I always come back to the fun factor. If you love what you’re doing and you enjoy this game, it should be fun and you should never be at a point where there’s so much pressure from your coach it’s like every little mistake they make is super critical. We’ll point those things out, we’ll watch film, we’ll review it, but if you’re nit-picking every single thing that they do and they play tense or they play afraid, I think that they won’t perform, so my style is definitely approachable and wanting to be there for them, to help them.”
But more than her work ethic, Brown said that it is her passion, for the game and for her players, that defines her most. And that passion is something she is now eager to share with her alma mater.
“I definitely want people to know how excited I am to be back,” Brown said. “I walk around campus and it’s just an energy, the Berry way, and it just feels right to be here. I’m very thankful for the opportunity and I feel the pressure of this job, it wasn’t just handed to me. Now I have to do everything I can to be successful, and I will work very hard, but I’m super, super thrilled to be here.”