By Linda Hirsch
Hired on a Tuesday in August, Mount Mary soccer coach Emily Patterson gathered her team onto the soccer field only three days later, where they started their regimen of two-hour weeknight practices. Patterson is hopeful that her dedication to her position will add stability to a program that has had a rapid turnover of coaches in the past five years.
Patterson admits it’s been a bit of a whirlwind.
“I’ve just been trying to catch up and getting to know the girls, and a lot of the first few weeks was just actively recruiting and trying to pull out girls who are interested and who can show some level of commitment,” Patterson said.
This year’s selection process differed from what Patterson envisions in the future for this NCAA Division III team. However, she’s pleased to be able to offer girls of various ability levels the opportunity to play soccer.
She continued, “My kind of philosophy going in was, I need to get as many girls out there as possible so that at the end of the day, or the end of the week, or at the end of the season when things kind of shake out, I’m left with girls who are committed, girls who really want to be out there.”
Twenty-five girls currently comprise the team and through a number of team-bonding activities, like bowling excursions and movie nights, she’s hopeful they will experience the spirit and cohesiveness of a second family. She also carries this philosophy to the practice and game field with affirmative prompts like, “Be patient, disciplined, and stay with the ball,” or “I’m really proud of you guys, you’re doing an incredible job!”
As a former high school social studies teacher, this conscientious 28-year-old recently completed her master’s degree at Marquette with a focus on higher education. In addition to her academic credentials, Patterson participated in Division I Soccer at the University of Wisconsin—Madison; it’s not unusual to see her playing on three to four club teams during any given season.
When Athletic Director Janae Magnuson hired her, Patterson brought along fellow social studies teacher and soccer guru Joe Shokatz as her assistant coach. Players say Shokatz is a “pretty cool guy,” “very helpful and understanding” and “he knows how to teach.” Patterson described Shokatz as someone who has been around the game for a very long time with many years of coaching experience.
“It benefits the team and the program in that…we’re able to do so much more if we have two coaches out on the field. We can split defense and goalkeepers from mid-fielders and forwards, and he can work with one group while I work with another,” Patterson said.
Shokatz agrees that this year’s team is moving in a positive direction, and he’s proud of the maturity the girls are displaying as they progress as a team.
“The new players are adjusting well, and the returning players are doing an amazing job of leading the new players through what college soccer is all about,” Shokatz said.
He purposefully develops competitive practices and drills enabling the team to achieve its highest level of play and graciously acknowledges the captains for their assistance in his mission. “They have accepted their role as leaders and have done a great job of creating a family.”
Looking back, Patterson recognizes the joy and connectivity she’s experienced among her own teammates and strives to parallel an equally positive atmosphere for her players.
“I always felt like it helped me function better as a student; it structured my time. Especially female athletes, I think any sports team that you’re involved with, if you’re involved with athletics, it does a whole lot for your confidence, self-esteem…I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” Patterson said.
Patterson said she sees tremendous opportunity to strengthen the soccer program in the years ahead. “I look forward to the successes, both big and small, that we are able to share with each other and with the girls along the way,” Patterson said.
Her vision is definitely not lost on her team members. “It’s not always winning that matters, but the effort you put into it,” said Kirby McMahon, goalkeeper and a junior majoring in broadfield language arts and secondary education. “You have to leave it on the field. When you walk off the field you want to know you did your best.”