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Fun is the way to play for Tolton girls soccer coach

Monday, April 14, 2014 | 8:22 p.m. CDT
Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School's girls soccer team members laugh at a joke made by their assistant coach during halftime on Thursday. Tolton played Sacred Heart and lost 3-2.

COLUMBIA — Coach Amy Gundy told her team she was going to yell at them a lot this season, and the players laughed at her.

They know her too well. They know she values fun, improvement and sportsmanship more than winning. They know she'd rather remove stress from their lives than add to it.

And if they ever become too taxed with their coursework at Fr. Tolton Regional Catholic High School, they know Gundy will help them out and not make them attend practice.

“She’ll be like, ‘Go! Go home and study!'” freshman Clare Devine said. “(The coaches) are so encouraging. We play really well as a team because of that.”

Gundy wants her team to win, but she enjoys watching her team play, regardless of the result. The Trailblazers are 2-5 this season.

During the team’s 3-2 loss to Sacred Heart on Thursday, she offered a reporter a seat on her team’s bench and joked often with her assistant coaches. Gundy's players described her laugh as infectious.

“Her laugh just cracks me up. Just hearing her laugh makes everyone else laugh,” junior Hope Wright said.

Wright is one of two Trailblazers currently injured — tough losses for a 15-person roster.

For the match against Sacred Heart, the team had just one substitute because there was a track meet the same evening. Freshman Haley Canaday is one of three soccer players who also run for the Tolton track team, and Canaday chooses track as her primary sport, meaning she'll attend a track meet instead of a soccer game when there's a conflict.

The short bench affects much of what Gundy and her coaching staff are able to do.

“That’s the frustration,” assistant coach Chris Wikle said. “In many ways our talent level is higher (than last year), but we struggle with numbers.”

Unable to substitute their better players off the field, they will often make “on-field subs,” where they will move a player to a position that requires less running for portions of the game.

Gundy will also have to dial back the pace of practice in weeks that her team plays multiple games.

“I can’t afford for them to get injured,” she said.

The size of the team also restricts its ability to play intrasquad scrimmages. The coaching staff of Gundy, Wikle, Dominic Hewitt and Sam Molli will often join in.

Like Gundy, Wikle is not a coach who barks out instructions; he wants his team to have fun.

“I give them a really lame joke at halftime of every game to remind them that this really is supposed to be fun,” Wikle said.

An example of one of Wikle's jokes is:

Q: “Where do you buy a soccer shirt?

A: "New Jersey.”

Hewitt, an MU graduate student and club soccer player-coach, can be just as goofy.

“Everyone, get a hat trick!” he said at halftime of the Sacred Heart match.

“All right everyone, on the line!” he yelled in jest after they lost.

Hewitt is unable to make every practice and game, but he loves to show up when he can.

“The best part of playing soccer is having fun,” Hewitt said. “I look forward to it every day.”

Molli plays for Tolton’s boys soccer team, and Gundy talks about the foursome of coaches as a team. She might be the captain, but each coach adds his own advice and follows the same basic philosophy.

Gundy and Wikle seem to be on the same wavelength.

Both are educators. Gundy currently teaches physical education, library and health at Tolton, while Wikle is the Director of Undergraduate Studies in MU's Department of Statistics.

The pair has coached together since their daughters, now both juniors on the team, were in kindergarten. And they have coached the team’s five juniors since they were all in elementary school.

Gundy, though, never pictured herself coaching her daughter, Heidi Gundy, in high school.

But Tolton was looking to make a hire in 2012, and nobody seemed to be an applicant, Gundy said.

During the second semester of the girls’ freshman year, Gundy and Wikle stepped up to make sure their daughters could continue playing.

That year, the Trailblazers competed solely at the junior varsity level and had a record of 7-4-2.

Last year, a team with no upperclassman went 6-12 and finished fourth out of four Class 1 District 8 teams.

This year, the goal is improvement: a winning record and a top-three finish in district.

“That’s really our role right now is to try to get this program off the ground,” Wikle said.

In addition to fun, Gundy values sportsmanship. She teaches her team that when games get physical, they shouldn't push back; they need to learn to treat the other team with respect. Wright, who's still a captain as she rehabilitates from injury, has passed that message along to the freshmen.

The message is spoken, not yelled.

Supervising editor is Mark Selig.


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