When Penn women’s soccer assistant coach Emily Oliver stepped on the field on Dec. 4, 2011, her objective was clear.
It was the finals of 2011 College Cup, the NCAA women’s soccer national championship, and her Stanford team was facing Duke.
After a tough loss one-goal loss in the championship to Notre Dame the previous year, Oliver — a sophomore and the starting goalkeeper — wanted nothing more than to lead her team to victory and expel the demons of that 2010 defeat.
And that’s exactly what she did.
Oliver held the Blue Devils scoreless and preserved her team’s 1-0 lead throughout the second half despite numerous scoring chances for Duke.
She cites this game as the highlight of her illustrious playing career, one that included playing stints with the U.S. U-20 National Team.
“After coming so close and knowing what it felt like to lose [my freshman year], winning it the next year just made it that much more special,” she said.
Oliver continued to shine with impressive numbers throughout her years at Stanford, graduating in 2014 with 36 career shutouts, good for fifth on Stanford’s career list.
But now when Oliver steps onto the field, this time dressed in the Red and Blue, she has a different objective.
She is no longer fiercely guarding the net or turning away opponents shots with ease. Instead, she is now a fixture on the sideline, coaching her team with the same passion and enthusiasm she emobodied during her playing career.
“As a player, she was very good managing the game and keeping things calm,” said head coach Nicole Van Dyke, who coached Oliver at Stanford. “She never had to react. She prepared before things happened, and she brings that calm sense and silent energy as a coach.”
However, Oliver’s path to the sideline wasn’t always so clear. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to be involved in coaching until after her playing days ended.
During her senior season at Stanford, Oliver was forced to retire from soccer due to concussions but remained on the team as the captain.
“It was kind of a blessing in disguise,” she said. “It did teach me a little bit in terms of coaching. ... [I was] kind of like a coach with training wheels.”
Her return to the game she loves is largely due to one person: Van Dyke, Oliver’s former coach who encouraged the star goalkeeper to try out coaching for herself.
“She hasn’t done too much coaching before this, but she’s got great energy,” Van Dyke said. “She was a great captain when she was at Stanford — very team-oriented — and she was always a good voice of the coach then, so it’s great that she has joined here.”
Oliver has equal praise for Van Dyke, her mentor who has undoubtedly made her transition from the field to the sidelines easier.
“Coming here was a nice way to ease in to coaching for me because I knew how [Van Dyke] liked to run things,” Oliver said. “I thoroughly enjoyed playing for her at Stanford, so it’s an honor to be part of her staff and with her as a coach here.”
But Van Dyke wasn’t the only reason Oliver made the trek from Palo Alto to Philadelphia. She appreciates Penn’s academic rigor and believes her time as a student-athlete at Stanford helps her relate to the current players.
“I think that I can have some sympathy for them in terms of academics, just knowing how demanding it is and how much pressure they face — from themselves and from the environment.”
Besides being able to relate, Oliver relishes the opportunity to coach such bright and talented individuals.
“We can challenge them with a lot of information and new concepts. And them being such smart kids they can absorb it,” she said. “It’s a level of communication that they understand.”
So far in her time at Penn, there have been a lot of positives, but in her first year as a coach, Oliver isn’t sure where this journey will take her.
“Who knows what the future holds,” she said.
“But right now I’m loving it.”Comments powered by Disqus
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