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Columbia College soccer coaches double up duties by coaching women's team

Friday, September 21, 2012 | 8:42 p.m. CDT
Columbia College head soccer coach John Klein talks to the men's team during halftime of Wednesday's game against Westminister College. Klein has been coaching the Cougars since 2000.

COLUMBIA — During Columbia College soccer practices, head coach John Klein typically likes to get the most out of his players and doesn't leave a lot of room for clowning around.

But for a few seconds during a practice with the women's team, Klein flashed his sense of humor for his team.

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Before starting a drill, Klein stepped in to show what he wanted to see from his players. He took the ball at midfield and lobbed a perfect pass right in front of a forward streaking down the right side of the field. She made a touch pass to another forward, who blasted the ball past the keeper for a goal.

"Hey, great finish, that's what we want to see. Great pass by the midfielder," Klein shouts.

"That pass was me, by the way," he adds to the other players gathered around him.

Klein is in his 13th year as the head men's soccer coach at Columbia College, and he has built the team into a nationally ranked program.

This is usually enough for some coaches, but when the opportunity arose to take on the new women's soccer program at Columbia College, Klein expressed interest in becoming that team's head coach in addition to coaching the men.

Discussions of adding a women's team at Columbia College began in 2008, and Klein was interested in coaching the team from the start of the process. Having one coach take on two teams is not unheard of in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Other schools, such as Kansas Wesleyan and Avila, have the same coaching set up.

Now though, Klein and his coaching staff have to double their workload and usually have back-to-back practices and games, but there has been no disappointment thus far.

"I'm glad I did it," Klein said. "It's not overwhelming, and I enjoy being on the field for four hours a day."

Cougars assistant head coach Jon Desha, who has been on Klein's staff since 2008, agrees with the decision to make Klein the women's head coach.

"Klein was the natural choice for the women's program," Desha said.

One of the biggest perks of coaching two teams for Klein and his staff, which consists of Desha, assistant coach Jack Rubenstein, and graduate assistant Meghan Gill, is being able to compare the men's and women's teams and see what is working and what isn't for both teams.

The men's team (5-0-2) has established itself as a top-10 team in the NAIA so far this year, so Klein often uses them as a model to see what's missing with the women's team (2-5-0).

"The girls are motivated by the men's success. It's part of what drove them to show up here," Klein said. "The girls are inquisitive and anxious to learn."

Klein and Desha also are able to split up duties at practices if necessary. If Klein is watching game film with the women's team after their practice or getting extra work in with the team, Desha can run the men's practice until Klein returns.

"We're both experienced coaches, and we work well and complement each other," Desha said. "I can do anything he does, and vice versa."

While the transition to coaching two teams has been smooth, it is not without challenges, including doubling recruiting efforts and managing the extra workload. During the preseason, when both teams had two practices per day, the coaches were with the teams for up to eight hours a day.

"It's a big time commitment and can be frustrating if you're not willing to put in the time," Desha said. "Being well supported by the college helps the job run smoother, and it's been a rewarding experience."

The players have also had to deal with their coaches doing double duty.

Dan Rapp, a senior defender on the men's team, said he was concerned at the beginning of the season that the amount of time the coaches had to devote to the women would detract from the men. However, he said that so far it has not been an issue.

Still, the success of the women, who typically practice and play their games directly before the men, is important to the men's players on a level beyond just being pleased to see the women's team succeed.

"We root extra hard for the women because we want coach to be in a good mood for us," Rapp said. "He's a competitive person, and you can tell how the girls played by his mood."

The Columbia College men's and the women's teams are set to play their doubleheader Saturday at Graceland University. The women's team plays at 5 p.m., while the men's team starts at 7 p.m.


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