COLUMBIA — It takes real confidence to say that a team not yet in existence will be competitive in its first season. But John Klein doesn't think twice about it.
Klein has been the head coach of the Columbia College men's soccer team since 2000, when he led the Cougars to the American Midwest Conference regular season and postseason tournament titles. Next fall, he will also be head coach for the Cougars' new women's team.
"I feel confident that we can put together a women’s program that will be immediately competitive," Klein said.
Klein said he will go with what he knows can be successful.
"I’m not modeling ourselves off of anyone," Klein said. "I think we know what Columbia College has to offer. We know what we’ve been able to do with the men’s program."
Klein will work with Jon Desha, who was promoted this week to assistant head coach for both the men's and women's teams. Desha has worked with Klein for the past four years as a part-time assistant. It is not just their experience together that gives them an advantage, but their chemistry.
"He and I have never really disagreed on any player that has come in," Desha said. "We've either liked them or not liked them."
Like Klein, Desha expects big things from the women's team in its first year. He said that keeping the same coaches gives the program a "head start."
"It was just a natural fit," Desha said. "We'll be playing at a high level right off the bat."
Desha will play a big role in overcoming the time conflicts that are likely to arise between the men's and women's teams.
Using similar coaching strategies with both programs is an integral part of Klein's plan. The coaches will use the same philosophies with the women's team that the men's team has thrived under. Klein said that certain aspects of the women's game are different, but a lot will translate from the men's game.
"I like to have numbers behind the ball and attack the space when we win the ball," Klein said. "I think ultimately the game is the same. You are there to protect your goal. And you’re trying to attack when you have a numbers advantage on the offensive end. I think the strategy is really that simple."
The coaches have already started the recruiting process. Columbia College is looking to sign 20 to 24 players, and Klein and Desha are constantly making phone calls, sending offers and making visits across the state. Klein said he expects a significant number of freshman, but he wants to bring in junior college players and transfers to add experience and maturity.
It's just another one of the many things Klein and Desha need to accomplish to hit the ground running with the Cougars' new team.
"We're gonna go forward right away," Desha said.
The Columbia College women's soccer team will start playing in the fall 2012 season.