When Steve Nugent became the women’s soccer coach in February, his priority was getting to know the players as individuals.

“It was more about them and us figuring out who we are. And I think that has a lot to do with my philosophy as a coach. I very much coach the person first.”

He and the players didn’t talk a lot about soccer initially. “We talked a lot about who you are, and why you love it here, and why you came here, and tell me something special about a teammate that you have.”

He adds, “You know, I’ve been accused of being more of a life coach than a soccer coach sometimes. And I’m OK with that, I really am.”

I very much coach the person first.

The players learned about some of his experiences in 20-plus years in soccer, about his family, about some of the other things he is passionate about like the Give N Go Project. The charitable initiative was started by his former player Amber Tollefson, whom he coached from the time she was about nine. The foundation distributes used soccer equipment to orphanages in areas such as Haiti, Ecuador and Nicaragua.

“And that’s something that we are going to be involved with as a team too, indirectly,” he says.

The early part of the soccer season they took on some of the toughest teams in the country, such as the No. 1 Tar Heels; No. 10 Duke; No. 14 Wake Forest; No. 23 Tennessee and Virginia Tech, ranked for much of the season.

The team entered the SoCon part of the schedule with a 1 win, 6 loss record, but they showed they weren’t afraid of taking on the best.

“Incredibly difficult out-of-conference schedule. Incredibly difficult conference schedule, defending our title,” he foresaw before the season started. The Spartans last year won the regular season and league tournament titles.

“The X on our back is as big as anybody’s in our conference.”

Goalkeeper Kelsey Kearney and her fellow team captain Stephanie Partenheimer have led the defense. Kristin Player, Jaimey Etten, Lauren Hein, Karin Sendel and Ashley Stokes have fueled the offense. Over the course of their first four conference matches, they won three.

After two decades in various coaching positions, most recently an assistant coach at Georgia, this season marks Nugent’s first as a collegiate head coach.

He details the individuals who have helped him and mentored him along the way to become the person and coach he is. He has gone from being a traffic-cop-style coach early in his career – ““Run here!” “Do this!” “Be this!” – to one with a lot better approach, he explains.

He has wanted to help young people develop as players and people since he was a teenager. “Didn’t want to be a banker. Didn’t want to go to Wall Street. Didn’t want to be a fireman. I wanted to be a coach and a teacher.”

See Athletics’ “Beyond Box Scores” piece on the Give N Go Project.
View the short audio/visual on Nugent’s trip to Haiti.
And see the remainder of this year’s women’s soccer schedule – all games this year are free.

By Mike Harris, University Relations
Photography by David Wilson, University Relations