Women's Soccer: Lopes makes 'personal decision,' leaves for Providence College

On April 15, 2014

  • Sam Lopes will be leaving Durham after just one season to take the same position at Providence College

After one season as the head coach of the UNH women's soccer team, Sam Lopes accepted an offer to take the same position at Providence College. 

The decision, which was made last Thursday, was a personal decision by Lopes. Lopes' family resides in Massachusetts and his fiancée is an assistant field hockey coach for the Friars. In the collegiate coaching field, it's hard to find a quality work place so close to home.

"It's very uncommon that people of our world of college coaches get to work at a great place surrounded by great people where professionally you think it makes sense, but your surrounded by your family," Lopes said. "So, with the fact of growing up 20 minutes outside of Providence, my family being there, and my fiancée who works at Providence, Providence was just unique in that sense, and ultimately it was a position that I needed to embrace not only for professional reasons but certainly the family personal side being a major factor of it."

"There was no counter-offer to be made," UNH Athletic Director Marty Scarano said. "This was a personal decision Sam made."

Providence Athletic Director Robert Driscoll, Jr., reached out to Scarano about a week and a half ago, asking for permission to meet with Lopes. Scarano agreed. Then, last Thursday, Lopes took the coaching staff out for breakfast to let them know that he'd been offered the position. Later that day, after practice, he told the staff and the team that he'd accepted the position. 

Lopes' news was a tough pill to swallow for the players. He told them in a meeting last Thursday.

"They took it pretty hard," interim head coach Carlos Pinhancos said.

"No one of us really saw it coming," sophomore forward Kirsten O'Neil said.

Despite the disappointment, players and coaches alike supported his decision, one that was based on being able to pursue his career while keeping family close.

"Based on his situation, personally, I feel he made the right decision," Pinhancos said. "In the profession that we have, to be able to have your family and your friends, your family close to you while you're doing the job you love, does not happen all the time, and the fact that it could happen was an opportunity he could not say no to."

"I completely understand where he's coming from," outgoing senior Colleen Murray said. "I think it was definitely a hard decision for him to do because I know how much hard work he put into the team and how much he does care about each and every one of us, how he was starting to see change in the team that was a direct result of him, so I do think that's kind of hard, to start a project and not be able to finish it."

"I would say it's a complete understanding [of Lopes' decision]," O'Neil said, "Everyone goes through a lot, and you have to sometimes do what's best for you."

In his one season as head coach, he turned four of 2012's losses into ties. His team shutout six opponents and went on a seven game unbeaten streak, including five conference games. On Sep. 11, the Wildcats beat Harvard on the road, a team they had not beaten in several years. The team did not make the postseason, failing to turn their ties into wins due to a lack of scoring, but everyone from as high up as Scarano to the players themselves have been impressed with what Lopes did in such little time.

"Sam did a fine job," Scarano said. "He basically changed much of the culture of the program and really has gotten everyone buying into doing all the right things. Certainly the play on the pitch has gotten much better ... I think this program is in a really good spot right now, and we just got to be sure we find a right person to keep that momentum going." 

"It definitely was a really positive experience the past year," O'Neil said. "I think that, soccer-wise, definitely we saw a lot of growth in our team."

In practice, he trained his players to be in top physical condition. At their fitness tests during the season, many of them were astounded at how much they had improved since the summer. In games, he taught his players to combine their talent with the drive to beat opponents to the ball. In the locker room, he did away with captaincy in favor of a leadership council in which all four classes, even freshmen, were represented and had a voice. 

Lopes has not spoken with his team since announcing his decision to them last week, save a few text messages from some of the players. He followed their exhibition game against St. Anselm last Friday night on twitter, proud to see the goals keep coming to give them a 5-0 win.

Scarano said that he's doing everything he can to make sure the women's soccer team has a new coach before the semester ends so that the players can meet them, though he doesn't know if that will be possible considering how close it is to the end of the semester.

"It's not a good time to be searching for a soccer coach, obviously, in April," Scarano said, "So, you know, that's going to be a challenge, but we're going to work around it."

Lopes said that the toughest part of the decision was leaving behind the players in Durham, who he still cares deeply about and wishes the best for.

"I love my players," Lopes said. "I still use the word 'my' because they'll always be my players. They're the ones that made it really rewarding at UNH. The people that work at UNH have been fantastic to work with, but if you don't wind up have good players that you deal with day to day, it can be challenging."

Pinhancos and Kyle Bak have been named interim co-head coaches for the time being.

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