Kim Wyant: “I just am so thankful to No. 1, be born at the time in history that I was born. It started changing and started opening up for women to be able to do what I’m doing now. A large part of that has to be because of Title IX.” (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Kim Wyant didn’t start off trying to make history, although like it or not, she keeps doing every few years.
She played goal in the very first U.S. women’s national team game in 1985.
She backstopped the Long Island Lady Riders to a pair of W-League titles in the 1990s.
She became one of the first women to coach a men’s collegiate soccer team.
And at 4 p.m. on Friday, as coach of the New York University men’s team, Garden City, N.Y. resident will face a woman on the opposing bench. That would be the University of Chicago’s Julianne Sitch, when those two teams meet in in a University Athletic Association game at Gaelic Field in Manhattan.
It is believed to be the first time two women will coach male college teams against one another.
Beyond the historic context, Wyant knew she will have a lot on her plate against the best men’s team in the NCAA Division III universe on Friday.
“The more I thought about it, obviously my focus is on the team and playing this really, really tough opponent,” she said in an interview earlier this week. “Trying to make sure I get the right strategy, trying to make sure that the team is prepared. But other than that, I’m just going to really try to enjoy the moment. I’m not going to say that the results aren’t important because they are to me and to my players and to my staff. We’re trying to get into the NCAA Tournament. Every game has every game is critical, no matter who you’re playing. So that that’s the focus is on the match.”
But it is difficult to escape the historical aspect of the contest.
Wyant, who has said in the past that she was uncomfortable being called a pioneer of the women’s game, has embraced making history this time while helping move females forward.
“I just am so thankful to No. 1, be born at the time in history that I was born,” said Wyant, who made 16 appearances with the national team after forging a reputation as a top-flight goalkeeper at the University of Central Florida. “It started changing and started opening up for women to be able to do what I’m doing now. A large part of that has to be because of Title IX. There’s no question about that. I mean, that’s just such a huge law that happened in our country that had such a positive effect, not only on me, but so many other women. Doors just started opening and I just kept walking through them. Football, soccer, has just been my ticket to such a fulfilling life and enjoying what I do every day. I just happened to be making history along this journey.”
The NYU coach realized how important the game was that she wanted her family to attend. Her spouse, former St. John’s University standout Cristin Burtis, and their two children will be at Gaelic Park.
“I talked to my family, Cristin and the girls and I said ‘Listen, it’s it would be really important for me to have you at the game, have everybody in the game. And the reason is, it’s historic. People might not care right now. It might not be a big deal right now. But we don’t know what this game is going to mean in the historical context. I told the girls 25 years from now, 50 years from now who knows, but at least you’ll be able to say, Okay, I was there for this game that happened, and you’ll be able to talk about it.’ ”
The number of women who have been head coaches in college soccer has been limited to a select few. The exact number is not available.
Sitch, a former member of the Sky Blue FC team that captured the 2009 Women’s Professional Soccer title, was hired by UC on April 20. She has extensive playing and coaching experience. At DePaul University, Sitch set school career records in goals (32), assists (26) and points (90). She also played professional with the Chicago Red Stars, Western New York Flash, Atlanta Beat, Sky Blue, Melbourne Victory (Austria), and Hammarby IF and Balinge IF (Sweden).
An Oswego, Ill. native, Sitch had two stints as an assistant coach with the UChicago women’s soccer team and has worked with the U.S. Soccer youth national team as the assistant coach of the Under-16 girls’ squad.
Prior to interviewing for the Chicago job, the 38-year-old Sitch sought out Wyant for advice.
“How were her experiences?” Sitch told FrontRowSoccer.com in May. “I know how she walked into that situation there. How great is this? What do you love about it? We had some really good conversations, and it was inspiring to speak with her, was inspiring to see her success at NYU.
“When I was looking more and more into this, I’m like, this is amazing. I have an unbelievable role model to speak with to. I can continue down this road, inspiring other women to step into these roles or to step into apply for a job that they’re thinking. She really did that for me and really helped me in that in that sense and inspire me. I hope to do the same for other women.”
Sitch got the job.
“I know that there’s a lot of good candidates for this job,” she said. “So, I feel very fortunate to be in this position.”
Sitch did not return a request for another interview with this website.
Wyant said that she hasn’t communicated much with Sitch except for congratulatory text messages.
“The first time I got to read her quote before she interviewed and I know that she attributes a lot of her getting the job to me,” she said. “I’m not so sure I deserve that credit as much as maybe administrators do. I keep saying that NYU deserves a lot of credit.”
The NYU coach was referring to former NYU athletic director Christopher Bledsoe and current senior associate athletic director Janice Quinn for making such an audacious move in 2015.
“They’re the ones that asked me to do this job seven years ago,” Wyant added. “That’s not recognized enough. It’s really the administrators that make these decisions, deserve credit. I have a resume and she [Sitch] has a resume, and that also deserves most of the credit.”
When NYU named Wyant coach in 2015, Bledsoe said, “That we can pull somebody with her experience, with her skill set, with her group of talents, with the people she is able to touch on in a short period of time and put them together with our team is the big piece of the story. That she also happens to be a woman, great. But that certainly wasn’t the reason why she was put into the position.”
In her eighth season as head coach, Wyant has guided the Violets to a 61-50-13 record and two NCAA tournament appearances.
While certainly not a numerical milestone, Game No. 125 on Friday will go down in the books for an important reason.
Prior to kickoff Wyant will treat the confrontation as just another match. She usually talks to the opposing coach.
“I always try to be friendly to my colleagues and find out how their trip was and that if they if they need anything,” she said. “A lot of times it depends on how it’s going with my team before a game as well. Are we on time or are we compressed on our time because of our traffic getting up there? Items like that. It will be interesting to see her on the field on Friday. I think that because of the historic nature of the event. I hope that we’ll find time to talk before the match actually gets off.”
Beyond the historical perspective, we also need to remember that this is a soccer game.
NYU needs points, preferably a win and three points, in its quest to reach the UAA playoffs, which will lead to the NCAA tournament.
Chicago ((14-0-0, 4-0-0), the No. 1 team in the latest United Soccer Coaches Division III rankings, on the other hand, would like to continue its quest to finish the season undefeated.
Coming off its most recent result, a 5-0 home victory over Wilkes on Oct. 22, NYU is 7-4-2 overall and 2-1-1 in the UAA.
Wyant realized the Violets had their work cut out for them against a powerhouse Chicago side.
“I mean, it’s an enormous challenge,” she said. “The University of Chicago has as long as I’ve been coaching at NYU, both on the women’s and the men’s side has been just a top top team, been to a number of Final Fours, to a number of final appearances in the NCAA championship. Always, always having good players, always being organized and structured and well supported by the university. So this is a huge challenge for us. It’s a huge opportunity as well. I know that my team is playing well. I know that we’re going to be well prepared.”
That’s not to say NYU will have some unique obstacles in front of itself. Wyant noted that most of her players will be in class in the morning and early afternoon until the team embarks a one-hour bus trek to Gaelic Park.
“Chicago will fly in the night before,” she said. “They’ll be in a nice cozy hotel, just relaxing and not have the same distractions that my players face. Being a student at NYU. So that’s always a concern for me,
“This trip up to Gaelic Park from our campus is easily an hour if not a little bit longer. It’s a struggle for us to play at home and in our home schedule. If you’re looking at how we’re doing at home versus how we’re doing on the road there, there’s clear you know, I don’t know if you want to call them red flags, but we don’t seem to enjoy the type of home field advantage that other schools enjoy because of our circumstances and logistics at NYU. Obviously, it makes it even more challenging when you get the No. 1 team compiled with all these other elements that go into being a student athlete at NYU.
“Not making excuses for sure, but I recognize these challenges. The team will be ready to play. Hopefully we’ll get the strategy right. We’ll see what the game brings.”
The Violets have built their winning record in a rather strange way. They are only 2-3-0 at home; all three defeats were 2-1 results. On the other hand, they are a sterling 5-1-2 away.
“We’ve found ways to tie games that we possibly should have won,” Wyant said. “We found ways to lose games that we could have easily tied. So we’ve been inconsistent for sure, especially early in the season.”
Wyant was heartened by a weekend trip earlier this month, when NYU recorded four vital road points. The team won at Emory University in Georgia, 3-2, on Oct. 14, and recorded a 1-1 draw at the University of Rochester in upstate New York on Oct. 16.
“It was a enormously good weekend for us,” she said. “To get a road victory and a draw is is so so hard in the environment that we do. So I’m very optimistic about that. I think that will absolutely be ready to play Chicago on Friday.”
Regardless of the result, historians hopefully will look back at the encounter for another reason – recognition for the sport and how it is moving forward.
“I think it deserves as much publicity as we can get for it,” Wyant said. “It is a marginalized sport in this country as you know. Soccer kind of barely registers at the professional level, national team level, obviously a little bit more. But I think it’s just important to get the word out as much as we can about this historic game.”