Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Coach of the Year: Dave Nolan

Earlier this month, the U.S. women’s national team prepared for its exhibition game against Canada on North Kehoe Field, drawing many fans to the Hilltop to watch the red, white and blue practice. Only a row below the press box, a crowd was treated to the opportunity to pick the brain of a man whose boisterous Irish accent and sharp wit could be heard above all else in the grandstands. That man was Dave Nolan, the hottest coach at Georgetown and one of the up-and-coming stars in the coaching ranks of women’s soccer.

It was just four years ago that Nolan, a longtime assistant for the Hoyas, was named head coach of the Blue and Gray. He was given the task of taking a mediocre program way and transforming it into a nationally recognized program.

“It’s tough [when] you’re changing the culture of a program that was happy with just being middle of the pack,” Nolan said.

It may have been a tough task at first, but, in his fourth season as head coach, Nolan guided the Hoyas to their most successful season – their 14 wins were the most in program history – and their first NCAA tournament berth ever.

Nolan, a Seton Hall graduate who led the Pirates to four NCAA tournament appearances and two Big East titles, was at a career crossroads in 2004. After five seasons as an assistant under Diane Drake at Georgetown, Nolan’s thoughts turned to a new job, but as luck would have it, Drake was the one who took a new job. After Drake accepted the head coaching position at George Mason University, Georgetown named Nolan head coach on St. Patrick’s Day.

During his five seasons as an assistant, Nolan focused heavily on recruiting, and when promoted to head coach in 2004, he knew that in order to take the Hoyas to the next level, he needed to find players with the ability and attitude to make that move possible. With his first recruiting class, the Class of 2008, Nolan knew he had gotten it right.

“I knew the programs they were coming from,” he said. “I knew it was a very talented group. You need some kids who want to raise the bar, and I was thankful that that group had those dreams.”

Georgetown made progress during this group’s first two years together, finishing 9-9-1 and making the Big East tournament in 2004, and finishing 12-8-1 – then a program best – in 2005. With Nolan’s inaugural class heading into its third season, expectations were high for 2006. The Hoyas started the season at 3-1-3, but someone must have walked under a ladder because the Hoyas found Nolan’s luck-of-the-Irish missing, losing eight of their final 12 matches and failing to make the Big East tournament.

“It was just one of those seasons where if it could go wrong, it did,” Nolan said. “If we were in front of the goal and took a shot, it would hit the cross bar, and if the [other] team took a shot, it would take a deflection and go into our goal. I told our kids at the end of the season that we used up a couple of years of bad luck and it could only get better, and it did, thankfully.”

Nolan was right, and Georgetown’s luck changed almost immediately with the signing of a talented recruiting class, ranked 35th in the nation by SoccerBuzz magazine and headlined by New Jersey Gatorade player of the year Ingrid Wells. Nolan may be a great tactician on the pitch, but he knows there is no replacement for talent, and his program now found itself loaded with young, talented players, in addition to experienced veterans.

“Getting kids like [seniors] Jade Higgins and Elaina [Filauro] and [Sara] Jordan, who had played at the top of the club sport arena in this country, and now getting Ingrid and Caitlin [Durkee] and others, it’s important for this program,” he said. “The best players make the best coaches.”

Nolan may be right that the players make the coach, but the players were coming to Georgetown to play for him.

“He definitely was a reason why I came [to Georgetown,]” Wells said. “He is really nice and always talks about where he wants the program to be. And he always made it sound like he wanted to help me get to the next level, and I knew he could help me get better.”

When the Big East coaches met at their preseason meeting this year in August, Georgetown was selected to finish fifth out of eight teams in the Big East National Division. Yet, even with such a low preseason ranking, the Hoyas insisted that their goal was not to return to the Big East tournament but to win it.

“I knew we were a better team [than people expected,]” Nolan said. “And I knew this senior group was determined not to let their season fizzle out like in years past.”

The Hoyas’ 2007 campaign got off to a fast start as the Blue and Gray’s blitzkrieg attack scored on opponents at will en route to a 7-1 record heading into conference play. It was then, during Big East play, that Georgetown was supposed to falter under the weight of soccer titans such as Notre Dame and Connecticut. But unlike in years past, they kept winning.

Twice throughout the course of the season, the Hoyas traveled to the home of a top-25 opponent and, like David against Goliath, toppled soccer giants in Marquette and Connecticut. The winning mentality that Nolan had envisioned in 2004 was coming to fruition.

“As a player, if you can’t get excited to play at a soccer shrine like Connecticut, then you’re not meant to be a soccer player,” Nolan said. “I knew these kids were the type that want to play the tougher games, and they showed it.”

After a loss to Notre Dame in the Big East tournament, which had seemed to become an annual season-ending loss in years past, the Hoyas received good news. They had received an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. It was the culmination of four years of hard work, and now Nolan had done it. Georgetown was on the national scene.

Their tournament experience was short but sweet, as they bowed out in the first round, falling 2-1 to William and Mary.

“Making the NCAAs is a huge milestone for the program, but the pressure now is to repeat it,” he said.

For the seniors, who put the program on the map, this year was a milestone, Nolan said, but he wants his returning players to remember it only as a stepping stone to greater things.

“I told the group coming back that the pressure is on this year’s senior class to lead us back,” he said. “That’s something that this group needs to take ownership and responsibility of.”

The onus is also on Nolan to keep winning, and, as with any Georgetown coach, he knows the challenges facing the program. The financial hardships and facility problems of Georgetown athletics are well-documented, but Nolan, who said he knew Georgetown was a special place from the moment he first visited it 10 years ago, feels that by selling the entire Georgetown experience, rather than just the soccer program, he will be able to continue to sign top recruits.

“Georgetown is special, and as coaches, we try to put the personal sell on the program,” he said. “That the players are coming here for more than just [the athletics]. Thankfully, most of us [in the athletic department] have been able to do that.”

It shouldn’t be hard for Nolan to lure recruits to Georgetown now, however. It’s a triple threat: a good school, a good program and a great coach.

More to Discover