It’s the beginning of November, leaves are flying off trees and the cold autumn air makes a strong presence once the sun slowly departs. On the campus of Springfield College, the women’s soccer team has been a constant presence. The Pride just earned their 4th straight NEWMAC championship over Babson on November 8th.
The entirety of the women’s soccer program is looking rather bright. Supportive classmates, family members, and faculty fill the stands to watch the contests at Brock-Affleck Field.
Their success has been evident, especially to the undergraduate student body and the rest of Springfield College that has been around for this decade.
The single-biggest reason why this program is near the top of the totem pole traces back to 1980.
The year 1980 was the start of the women’s soccer program, as the current year, 2015, marks the 35th anniversary of the program. Everything seems like it has been a smooth process over a span of three and a half decades but that has been proven to be just the opposite.
Rich tradition in this program has been created by working from the ground up. A number of female students that simply loved the game of soccer were highly determined in 1979 to start a club team at Springfield College.
Jean Fruh and Sue Deady, juniors during 1979, were eager to get the women’s club soccer team underway.
“If we want this, we just have to do it,” said Fruh.
In light of this, the question would be, “Who would they turn to?”
The soft-spoken man from Hungary with the ever-so jolly smile that lights up the classroom; Herb Zettl stood performing his passion; teaching history.
The female students hopeful of starting the club team approached Zettl asking if he would be their advisor for the team. Instantly, Zettl was willing to assist his students.
“What do I have to do,” said Zettl.
“Nothing except sign these papers,” said the students.
It turned out that the situation took a whole other turn. Before they knew it, the motivated history teacher was signing a petition and a series of papers in order to become the club soccer coach. Fruh and Deady were named the co-captains of the club team.
A year later, in the spring of 1980, Zettl was called down to the athletic office to meet with athletic director Edward Steitz. It was completely unexpected for Zettl and was unsure as to what this matter would be about. The meeting with Steitz ended up creating a whole new passion for Zettl and the start of something incredibly special; Steitz wanted the Hungary native to become the first head coach of the newly-formed women’s soccer program.
Zettl may have arrived at Springfield College with only teaching history on his mind, but his new passion starting in 1980 would leave a lasting impression on him.
“Coaching was just something that you do not get in the classroom,” said Zettl. “I experienced a different relationship with students and players that you don’t get in the classroom.”
No interview was conducted with Zettl. There was no attempt for a national or regional search for the coaching position; Zettl was the guy. Some outside the program may have wondered why him. A history teacher and soccer coach aren’t necessarily synonymous.
“I was the outsider, I was the arts and science person,” Zettl laughed.
After 17 years of coaching at Springfield College, it was quickly determined that Zettl would no longer be considered an outsider. Eleven winning seasons, three Division II championships, and four conference championships would put Zettl deeply onto the list of the coaching giants at Springfield College.
But, the 1980 season was the very beginning of Zettl’s masterpiece. The women remarkably finished the year 9-2. Fruh and Deady, the only seniors on the team, carried over their captain spots to the first season at the varsity level.
The following season, Zettl had more new faces, but strung together their second winning season, going 12-4-1. It was also a memorable season in which the women got their first taste of a championship. They were named the NEWISA Division II champs and then repeated as champions in the 1982 season, posting a regular season record of 11-3-1.
Springfield had success right from the start of the program, but refused to deny any opportunity to play any of the teams in the region.
“We were the new kids on the block,” said Zettl. “We played anybody.”
Zettl’s statement proved to be true. During the 1980 season, the University of Massachusetts came to Springfield. Despite a 1-0 loss to UMass, Zettl’s team almost saw it as a victory. A school from Amherst that consisted of over 30,000 students took on a small school from Springfield who managed to give the powerhouse quite the battle.
Throughout the rest of the 1980 season, the maroon and white played teams like New Hampshire, the University of Connecticut, the University of Massachusetts, Yale, and Dartmouth. Even right from the start of this promising program, the team made it clear they wanted to play the best.
Springfield’s home-contests were not played at the same venue as the current team does now. Benedum Field, which is now Stagg Field, was where the women would play their home games. Benedum was a turf field consisting of blocks of concrete with a thin layer on it.
Zettl remembers all of the memorable moments on Benedum Field and all of the great seasons his team had.
“I was on a high for 17 years,” said Zettl.
If there happened to be one season that screamed out success a little more, there certainly was one for Zettl’s squad. The 1992 season was historic in a couple aspects. It featured a 17-3 season, the best the program has ever had, including a Northeast-10 conference championship as well as being named the ECAC Division II champions. The Pride finished the season ranked 10th in the national coaches poll.
The historic 1992 team had decorated players like Angel Schofield-Ayres, Jen Eibel, Sue O’Connor, and Kara Shanahan. Schofield-Ayres was a three-time All-American and is the leading scorer in the program’s history. She was a two-time captain and named the Northeast-10 player of the year twice in her four-year career.“Springfield College women’s soccer still after 20 years, holds a very special place not only in my heart but also in my soul,” said Schofield-Ayres.
“I am to this day so proud that I was able to put on an SC uniform and stand beside my incredible teammates and coaches.”
Zettl’s passion for his team may be the characteristic that puts him a part.
“You will not meet a more sincere and caring coach than Coach Zettl,” said Schofield-Ayres. “He was so passionate about soccer and more importantly our team. He always went above and beyond to make sure we all had what we needed to be successful and happy. “
Zettl, the man who lived in Germany during World War II, laid the foundation for a program that would continue to prosper as the years progressed.
“To me, it was a transformational experience,” said Fruh. “A great coach, a great team, we had fun.”After the 1992 season, Zettl was well into his coaching career, but the successful seasons began to fade. From 1993-1996, the Pride only managed to make the playoffs once, in the 1993 season. The 1995 season marked Springfield’s first year in Division III, after 15 seasons of being in Division II. In the 1997 season, Zettl’s team finished the regular season 10-6-2 and qualified for the ECAC New England Division III Tournament.
It was not only putting Springfield back to its winning ways, but allowing the man who started it all to leave on a good note. Herb Zettl, the warm, passionate, hard-working, friendly face of Springfield College, decided it was time to step down at the helm of women’s soccer.
“Nobody asked me to leave” Zettl laughed. “But in 1997 I felt it was time.”
The post-Zettl era started off consisting of Lori McLaren in 1998, and then Martha Brousseau in 1999.
In 2000, current head coach John Gibson arrived on the scene. He is in his 16th season as he has helped lead Springfield to five straight NCCA Tournaemnt apprearances. Gibson earned the milestone of 200 victories on October 17th Gibson is grateful for the legacy that Zetll created in the program. He attributes part of his success to the man who started it all.
“Isaac Newton was asked how could he do what he achieved,” said Gibson. “I’ve done what I’ve done because I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, Herb isn’t a world-renowned scientist but in women’s soccer terms, he’s a giant.”