When Laurie Darling Gutheil took on the job of building a Saint Rose women’s soccer program, she was 22 and just a year removed from her own competitive collegiate career. Saint Rose had no history with the women’s game, no players in the wings, or even its own fields.
“I told (athletic director) Cathy Haker when I interviewed that I could build a program to win a national championship,” she recalled 25 years later. “I believed in my ability to mold and shape talented players into winners.”
These days, Saint Rose ranks among the nation’s top Division II programs. The long list of “mosts” and “bests” includes seven trips to the Final Four. Players’ individual awards are voluminous.
And Gutheil is now the winningest female coach for NCAA Division II and fifth for all three divisions. The crowning achievement — the NCAA title in 2011 — is a prize the team seeks to reclaim.
“‘We lost three Final Fours in a row before we finally won and have returned three times since, trying to win it all again,” said the longtime coach and full-time high school history teacher.
But back when Gutheil was named head coach in 1996, success was measured by simply finding athletes willing to play on borrowed fields for a small upstate New York College with no track record. She did it, using her powers of persuasion to build a top-drawer team.
Laurie Darling Gutheil, left, with the 2011 national champions at a reunion
On recruiting trips to Colorado, California, and Washington, she dared to ask Division I prospects to consider Division II careers. She pointed to the significant playing time they could expect, the opportunity to lead a new team, and a College experience just a few hours from Boston and New York City. With support from her husband, Assistant Coach Jason Gutheil, she took an interest in their academic pursuits. She met them at the airport. She stayed in touch with families.
After a decade, her blueprint paid off. In 2006, the Golden Knights racked up the first of nine Northeast-10 season championships and eight season titles, yielding Final Four appearances and ultimately, the title. Today, the team shines on top-flight turf fields at the Plumeri Sports Complex. A practice field there was named for her and her husband.
Various early players have said the underdog status and quirky play on muddy or rutted fields actually helped form the ethos of Saint Rose Women’s Soccer. But then, as now, the coach reminds them that personal character and community are more enduring than their athletics careers.
On December 3, 2011, when the team won the title against powerhouse Grand Valley State, former players watched from New Hampshire, Colorado, or even traveled to Pensacola to see the victory from the stands.
“There are no words to describe the feeling of winning the 2011 national championship. I was crying tears of sheer joy and euphoria when the whistle blew,” she said recently. “I was so happy for the team, coaching staff, and entire school community. And I believed it was a championship all of the players from each previous team also won.”