COLUMBIA — During a two-mile run at practice one day, John Klein, head coach of the Columbia College women's soccer team, noticed that one of his players was falling behind.
She had been lapped and was struggling to finish. Then, as she trudged her way to the end of the run, at least eight of her teammates who had already finished joined her on the home stretch and began encouraging her and pushing her to finish.
The team, which is in its first year of existence at Columbia College, is made up mostly of transfer students who began their collegiate soccer careers at other schools, in addition to seven true freshmen.
They had about two weeks before the season to come together and get to know each other. But through team bonding exercises and spending time with one another away from practice, the team has become a close-knit, supportive group.
Klein said the team’s closeness has helped both on and off the field.
“They’re all excited to be here. I haven’t heard one negative comment,” Klein said. “They’ve become so comfortable with one another; this is like their sorority here on campus.”
Sophomore midfielder Amanda Caldwell, who went to Christian Fellowship School in Columbia and attended Wright State University in Ohio before transferring after her freshman year, said she enjoys being a part of the first women’s soccer team at Columbia College.
“Few people get the chance to be the first at anything,” Caldwell said. “It’s an amazing opportunity, and we’re hoping to go far.”
Junior defender Meg Goddard said there hasn't been any problems coming together as a team.
“We have a really bubbly team,” Goddard said. "Everyone’s made 20 new friends since being here."
Goddard is one of four players who transferred from Cloud County Community College in Kansas, but she is a native of Sidmouth, England, and is the team’s only international player. She, like Caldwell, looks at Columbia as an opportunity to do something special with the first year of the program.
“Everyone has a clean slate coming into this season,” she said. “It’s a bit of a risk, but it’s exciting to see who’s going to be the first girl to score a goal or get the first assist.”
Junior midfielder Natausha Sanchez took the honor of registering the team's first goal ever, with junior midfielder Stephanie Hale setting her up with the assist in Wednesday's game against American Midwest Conference opponent Benedictine University. The Cougars' first victory was an 11- 1 rout.
The addition of a women’s soccer team to Columbia College is part of a large-scale expansion to Columbia’s athletics department. Men’s and women’s cross country teams are also making their program debuts this fall along with men’s and women’s golf teams.
The expansion was described as a “bold move” by Klein, who has also been coaching the men’s team since 2000. The move was initiated by athletics director Bob Burchard, and has been in progress since 2008, according to a previous Missourian article.
“We were waiting for the right moment," Klein said. "Columbia College is in a growth mode, and we’re looking to add students and sports at a high level.”
Klein, who is already the winningest soccer coach at Columbia College, had to build a team from the ground up. Klein and assistant coach Jon Desha began their recruiting process close to home, looking at community colleges, high schools and club soccer teams in mid-Missouri. Then they expanded to the Kansas City and St. Louis areas, as well as the junior college scene.
“Every JuCo within four hours of Columbia got a call asking kids to come to a new program,” Klein said.
The recruiting expanded as far as the junior college system in California, where the coaching staff found four players that are currently on the roster.
Both Caldwell and Goddard cited Columbia College’s campus as well as the size of the city as major reasons for transferring there. The recent success of Klein’s men's teams also played a role.
“It’s been brilliant to have the men’s team as a role model,” Goddard said. “Their success drives us. We may not be as good (as the men) the first couple of years, but it’s a goal for us eventually.”
The win over Benedictine ran Columbia's record to 1-2-0 and 1-0-0 in conference play. The team's home opener against Mount Mercy University is set for 4:30 p.m. Saturday at R. Marvin Owens Soccer Stadium.