Women's Soccer Wins Back-to-Back conference championships
As the saying goes: One is an accident, two is coincidence and three is a pattern. But nothing about the Point Park women's soccer team's recent success is an accident or a coincidence.
Under the leadership of head coach Maggie Kuhn, the Pioneers have seen a complete turnaround of the program. Point Park has recorded 10-win seasons four of the five years under Kuhn and has reached the conference tournament every year.
More recently, the Pioneers won the River States Conference championship in the fall of 2016 knocking off the top-seeded Ohio Christian University 2-0, in the finals. It was the second conference tournament championship in a row to earn another trip to the NAIA National Championship Opening Round.
From a team that was 26-86-5 before Kuhn's tenure, to a team that has won 49 games in the five years since, Point Park has seen a tremendous swing in momentum from the program.
"What excites me about coaching in general is seeing the student-athletes develop and get better," Kuhn said. "This my first head coaching job, so I didn't really know what to expect, but what excited me the most about taking over the program was that I was going to be able to see what I could do."
Under Kuhn's tutelage, the Pioneers are yearly contenders for the conference title having experienced five years in a row in which they have reached the finals or semifinals (2012, 2013 and 2014) or were conference champions (2015 and 2016).
"What's important to me - especially when I'm recruiting players - is that I want the team to be a family," Kuhn said. "That means they're constantly working together to get better for the team, not for individual gain. I'm fortunate to be surrounded by brilliant young ladies who are the reason this team is successful."
This season was the Pioneers' fourth 10-win season and its third winning season in a row. After the first championship in 2015, Kuhn lost seven starters to graduation, including two first team all-conference players, as well as four second team all-conference players.
With 19 new faces on the team for 2016, there was no guarantee of a trip to the conference tournament and barely a thought about the national tournament.
"I knew coming in we had a lot of quality, but I didn't know how they would mesh with the upperclassmen and adapt to the college level," Kuhn said. "In my opinion, belief is one of the most underrated qualities in moving a program forward, and that carried into the next season.
"I'm always talking to the team about being in love with the process - it's one thing to want to win a championship in August, but another to want to win when the season is over."
After a rough start to the 2016 season at 0-5-1 against a tough, non-conference schedule, the Pioneers hit their stride and came together as a team to go 6-2 in conference action and secure a second place seed and first-round bye in the RSC tournament.
After defeating No. 3 seed Asbury (Ky.) University, 2-1, at Highmark Stadium, Point Park went on the road for the finals to face No. 1 Ohio Christian. The Pioneers lost to OCU, 2-1, in the regular season, but knowing this only added fuel to the fire.
Up to the Challenge
Kuhn said she knew the team had a shot at the conference title after beating Asbury and WVU Tech, two big wins in the regular season.
"We didn't play our best game against Ohio Christian in the regular season," she said. "I think we believed after we beat Asbury that we had a chance of beating any team in the conference as long as we brought our best game."
After a 2-0 win over OCU to clinch another conference title, the Pioneers were headed back to the NAIA national tournament. There they drew No. 2 seed Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) College, a perennial NAIA powerhouse and the same team they played in the 2015 national tourney.
The Pioneers did not back down from the challenge, holding Lindsey Wilson to only seven shots. Only four teams all year held the Blue Raiders to under 10 shots with the other three being nationally ranked.
However, the shots for Point Park did not fall, and the ladies were sent home with a 3-0 loss.
Even though they all played a tremendous role on the team, Kuhn is losing only four seniors this year, which means that the majority of her starting lineup will be back and ready to defend the conference title in 2017 and continue the pattern of winning.
"I'm really excited about the future of this program," Kuhn said. "The ladies are already in the gym preparing for the fall. The future of this team is dependent on them and the effort they put in until next August."
Text by Karina Graziani
Photo by Sam Robinson
The Point is the magazine of Point Park University