COLUMBIA — Ben Boehner, 30, couldn’t stay away from his college town and the game he loved even if he wanted to.
It’s a sunny Thursday morning at Audrey J. Walton Stadium, and Boehner is performing his usual duties as a volunteer assistant coach for the Missouri women’s soccer team. He's running through drills and giving directions to the players.
Boehner is in his second year at the position, working mostly with Missouri's midfielders. He also handles scouting reports and plans training sessions.
The Parkville native is fairly new to the Tigers' staff, but he is no stranger to the city of Columbia. He was offered the coaching opportunity because of a connection he made here about a decade ago.
While playing at Columbia College from 2001-05, Boehner also played on a recreational indoor team in the offseason with Missouri head coach Bryan Blitz. A few years later, Blitz heard Boehner had gotten into coaching and offered him a spot on the Tigers' coaching staff.
Boehner started as the team's director of performance analysis in 2011. He produced film for the team to study.
“He said, ‘Hey, I know you’re in coaching. I don’t have a coaching position, but I have a position that will get you paid. Not a lot of money, but it gets your foot in the door,’” Boehner said. “Since then, it’s been 15 months of fast track because of our coaching turnover. I’ve got the chance to do a whole lot of stuff.”
Boehner moved to volunteer assistant coach in 2012. His previous coaching experience was as an assistant for the women's team at Missouri Valley College in Marshall for two years.
Boehner said he prefers being a women's coach than coaching guys, based on his playing experience.
“I don’t know if it’s me growing up with three sisters, but I really enjoy working with girls,” Boehner said. “I feel like they desperately want to learn, always want to try to get better, as opposed to some males who may know it all.
“I think that they respect us and all that we can bring, so really teaching them, as far as I’m concerned, is something that’s worthwhile because it’s fulfilling on both ends.”
Although the former men's player has found attitude differences between the two, he believes the technical aspects of the men’s and women’s games are similar.
“Other than the obvious, which is just sheer strength, power, speed, when it comes down to things like mental awareness, agility, preparation and things like that, there’s not much difference,” Boehner said.
“These girls are amazing athletes,” he said. “They get after it on the field, you know, just as much or more so than guys teams that I’ve been with.”
While Boehner was a college player himself at Columbia, he and his teammates helped the school be one of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics' top programs. During his career, the team went 56-25-2 overall with a record of 23-3-1 in the American Midwest Conference. The former forward credits the chemistry of the team, not himself, for the program’s success.
“I wanted to score a lot of goals, but it just didn’t happen,” he said. “We had a good balance of internationals and domestic players, and we were able to mesh well and become successful.”
Columbia College men's soccer coach John Klein said Boehner was a four-year starter and played an important role in his team's success.
“He’s one of the great Cougar alums, or maybe the greatest, in terms of energy and excitement for Columbia College,” Klein said. “He was a good attacking player, and he stayed in the game; and he’s going to make a terrific coach.”
Now at Missouri, Boehner sees his current position as “the natural stepping stone in the Division I course.”
Since he isn't paid for his services, he works on the side as a substitute teacher and benefits from the local ties he began forming 12 years ago.
“I can make ends meet," Boehner said. "I’ve got a lot of great friends in town. I probably wouldn’t be able to do it if I wasn’t in that position.”
Boehner does not know how long his return to Columbia will last but says his goal is to “just continue coaching, continue doing what I love, and where that leads me we’ll see.”