Walsh Tips Her Hat to Trailblazers as She Becomes One in Her Own Right
The past, present and future of women’s soccer in the United States has always been held in high regard. So, it was only fitting that the 2013 NSCAA Convention in Indianapolis would highlight many of the stars of women’s soccer.
The beloved Janet Rayfield became the first woman to receive the NSCAA’s Honor Award. U.S. Women’s National Team icon Michelle Akers was the featured speaker at the NSCAA’S Women’s Committee Breakfast. University of Washington’s Lesle Gallimore was the Women’s Committee Award of Excellence winner. The National Women’s Soccer League held their draft. New U.S. Women’s National Team Coach Tom Sermanni conducted a field session.
And, one of the brightest women’s soccer coaches in the country received some well-deserved recognition, too. Penn State’s Erica Walsh was named the 2012 NSCAA/FieldTurf NCAA Women’s D-I Coach of the Year, the result of voting by her fellow Division I coaches from around the country.
Walsh, who also won her second Big Ten Coach of the Year honor, guided the Nittany Lions to a 21-4-2 season, including 10-0-1 in the Big Ten to extend the program’s conference record to 15 straight Big Ten titles. Penn State went on to make its first appearance in the national championship game, where it fell to North Carolina.
“It was an incredible honor for me [winning the NSCAA’s Coach of the Year], my staff, and the Penn State program,” Walsh said. “It was made even better by being around the amazing network the NSCAA has provided me over the years.
“When I first got into coaching at Dartmouth in 1998, Sue Ryan and John Daly played key roles in growing my excitement about the game by encouraging me to join the NSCAA. It was immediately clear to me that I was a part of something much bigger than my own little comfort zone and that I had a responsibility to give back to the game that has given me so much over the years.
“I am constantly in awe of individuals such as Janet Rayfield, John Daly, Lisa Cole, Marcia McDermott and Lesle Gallimore that give so much back to the game and inspire the next generation of young coaches.”
Walsh believes the power of the NSCAA and its growing Women’s Committee is just another reason why U.S. soccer will continue to dominate worldwide.
“I hear stories about when they started the committee, there were three people in the room trying to figure out how to grow the game,” said Walsh, who was a top assistant for Pia Sundhage and the U.S. Women’s National Team at the 2011 Women’s World Cup and in the qualification matches for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
“Last week in Indianapolis there were 250 people at the Women’s Soccer Coaches Breakfast and almost the same at the social the night before. This happens because people like Janet Rayfield are wonderful advocates for the game and they make other women’s coaches, including me, want to continue to grow, continue to get better and continue to help the sport.
“Now when we get together we are looking at ways to encourage other young women to become coaches when they are done playing – the NSCAA provides a platform to do that.”
The NSCAA also provides a platform to salute great coaching. And, for Walsh, great coaching is much more than just Xs and Os. When she came to Penn State from Harvard, Walsh brought with her a wealth of experience at both the international and collegiate levels. She already had coached at six different universities, including three stints as head coach as well as serving as an assistant for the U.S. U-19 team in 2004 and as head coach of the U-17 team from December 2004 until her hire at Penn State in February of 2007.
Yet, Walsh said, it was some well-constructed, off-field planning that made the difference in 2012.
“This was the first class I recruited when I came to Penn State (from Harvard),” Walsh said. “We spent a lot of time together in the off-season working on leadership development and conflict resolution. It was amazing the effect that the investment in those areas had on this team. We had remarkable senior leadership this year, including recent NWSL draftees Christine Nairn and Maddy Evans.
“The seniors helped guide us to the national championship game. I will never forget as we were headed to overtime against Florida State in the semifinals we looked over and saw Maddy and Christine with the full attention of the team telling the players what needed to happen in order for us to win the game. That was one of my proudest moments as a coach this past season.
“As far as when I knew we had a special team, it was early in the season after we lost to the reigning national champions, Stanford, 3-2, in the final minute. Our team was incredibly disappointed after that match. The bar had been set and their expectations were high. It was clear they wanted the opportunity again to show they were the best.”
Making Walsh’s honor even more remarkable is knowing the kind of year she’s gone through. Penn State lived under the black cloud of the football program’s controversy. And, Walsh’s mother, Jeanne, has been battling colon cancer.
“It can go one of two ways when you are dealing with that kind of adversity,” Walsh said. “Our team chose to be proactive. We became leaders on the campus and I think our team inspired others … I know they inspired me. Maddy Evans was president of the student advisory board and our players spoke up on the Big Ten Network. They had a chance to be heard … and they continue to be wonderful ambassadors for the university.
“My mom has been an inspiration as she battles and beats colon cancer for the third time. One of the thrills of my life was having her in Indianapolis with my father, Cal, and my sister’s family, when I received the NSCAA Coach of the Year award. Pretty amazing, with all she has gone through to be there with me.”
So life is pretty good for Erica Walsh. However, in typical Walsh fashion, she continues to give others credit.
“Without question you need great players and we have them now at Penn State,” Walsh said. “But the biggest piece of the puzzle is my associate head coach Ann Cook. “When I came to State College a call to her was the first call I made. If you look at what she has done, being primarily responsible for our attack, she is a brilliant mind, she could coach anywhere she wants to coach, she is a great technical coach, she has a great soccer brain and I am grateful she has decided to stay with me at Penn State.”
The NSCAA is grateful to honor you, Erica Walsh.