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Newsday (New York)
The timing was bad and the situation was messy.
That was Kim Wyant's gut reaction when she received a call from Janice Quinn in September 2015. Quinn, NYU's senior associate director of athletics, told her that the men's soccer coach had just quit one game into the season because of a family illness. They wanted her to take over the team. Immediately.
Wyant, then a volunteer assistant on the NYU women's team, was torn. A former national team player who spent 20 years coaching soccer at various levels, Wyant now was trying to dial it back a bit to spend more time with her young daughters.
"There were probably more reasons to turn down the job than take it," said Wyant, a Garden City resident. "It was scary. It was daunting. It was messy. I thought there's a lot of stuff I might be stepping into which is unknown, but I can't let this opportunity go by because I would regret it."
Three years later, Wyant has few regrets. This weekend, the program she took over will be playing in the NCAA Division III Tournament for the first time in eight years. In Saturday's first-round game, NYU played Haverford to a 1-1 draw and advanced on penalty kicks, 5-4. NYU will face Montclair State on Sunday.
You can't always dictate when opportunity knocks. You just need to be ready when it does. Wyant was, and as a result, she is the only woman coaching a men's soccer team on any level of NCAA play, according to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
Wyant is one of a very small but growing percentage of women coaching NCAA men's teams. Though it generally is accepted that men can coach women's sports, women are just now beginning to land jobs coaching men's teams.
According to statistics gathered and published by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES), 6.2 percent of Division III men's teams had female head coaches in 2016-17. At the same time, 55.6 percent of the coaches of Division III women's teams were men. The disparity was even worse in Division I, in which only 4.6 percent of men's teams were coached by women and almost 60 percent of women's teams were coached by men.
These, of course, were not the statistics NYU was thinking about when the job was offered to Wyant.
"First and foremost, we hired Kim because of what she could offer as a coach, a professional and a leader," NYU athletic director Chris Bledsoe said. "She also happened to be an extremely accomplished athlete, which was great. That she also happened to be a woman was interesting and made for a good story, but it wasn't why we hired her."
It's not really a surprise that Wyant, 54, would take on such a challenge, given that she has been a pioneer her entire career.
Wyant, a goalkeeper for the University of Central Florida, played in the first NCAA women's national championship game in 1982. Two years later, she was selected to play on the first U.S. women's team, and in 1985, she was the goalkeeper for its inaugural match against Italy. When a national women's league called the W-League formed in the mid-1990s, Wyant played in the first championship game for the Long Island Lady Riders, now known as the Rough Riders.
"There have been a lot of firsts in my career, which I'm grateful for, but I think it's just 'cause I'm really old," Wyant said with a laugh.
When Wyant took over NYU's team in 2015, she said she knew the names of six of its players. She had one practice with the team before coaching her first game. The seniors on this year's team were freshmen when she took over the reins of the club, and they have seen it transform from a program on the verge of having to cancel its season when they lost their coach to one that has posted three straight winning seasons and entered the NCAA Tournament with a 12-4-1 record.
Senior team captain Niko Patrk said he briefly thought about switching schools when Joe Behan, the coach who recruited him, suddenly resigned. He liked NYU, however, and decided to give Wyant a chance.
"It was very hectic. There was a degree of uncertainty," Patrk said. "Her track record was impressive. I think we did a good job of keeping open minds. I think there was a curiosity of what it would be like [to have a woman coach]. It's definitely something different, but not too different. A sport is a sport."
Patrk said being a part of the team's stabilization and turnaround has taught him a lot of life lessons. He credited Wyant's leadership ability and aggressive recruiting for the team's improvement.
Freshman defender Pablo Vargas said Wyant basically followed him around the country in her effort to get him to commit to NYU.
"She came to all my showcase games," Vargas said. "I already knew people on the team, and she was really interested. I'm glad I took the chance because we've had a really great season."
In her first year, Wyant sometimes was cognizant of being the only woman at recruiting showcases, but now it's something she rarely thinks about.
"A lot of people want to talk about the fact I'm a female coach," she said. "I'm happy to talk about that and I'm proud about that, but it's the challenge of taking over a team one game into a season that really drew me in . . . Coaching is my passion and my career."
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