The world of college sports has been tipped on its head.
The cancellations of numerous fall sports in most of the nation’s main conferences have forced programs to implement new methods of keeping athletes trained and ready once competition begins again.
Penn women’s soccer has experienced this firsthand, not meeting in person since the spring. Compounded with these unprecedented circumstances has been the introduction of new coach Casey Brown after the departure of Nicole Van Dyke to Pac-12 power Washington.
Brown was hired from Holy Cross, where she led the program to its best result since 2000. Having grown up just outside of Boston, Brown considers herself a strong New Englander. Throughout her youth sports career, she excelled in many sports, playing soccer, basketball, and lacrosse for Natick High School. Brown shined especially on the pitch, running the teams’ offense at center midfield, where she garnered 49 goals and 32 assists.
After high school, Brown continued her soccer career at Boston University, starting 19 of her first 20 games. In her first year at BU, Brown remained in a center midfield role. However, she transitioned to center back after her freshman year, which proved to be a successful move. She won three consecutive America East Defender of the Year awards, the first player to do so in conference history. She also was named an All-American in her senior season with the Terriers.
“I always knew I wanted to be a coach. Nancy Feldman, my head coach at BU who’s still there, really made me see that coaching can be a profession, and what that looks like at the collegiate level," Brown said.
After graduating, Brown was selected by the Boston Breakers in the seventh round of Women’s Professional Soccer League draft, which was held in Philadelphia that year. After a short stint in the pros, Brown returned to school, enrolling in LIU Brooklyn. Brown took a graduate assistant coaching position with the Sharks.
“I got to be on the coaching staff. In my twenties, I was immediately immersed in this Division I coaching game. I was in an environment where the head coach let me have my hands on everything," Brown said. "I got to be a part of recruiting, scouting reports, on-field coaching, and player management, and it was such an amazing experience."
After graduating from LIU Brooklyn with a master’s degree in exercise physiology and sports nutrition, Brown returned to her alma mater in an assistant coaching position. Here, Brown was immensely successful, helping the terriers win three consecutive Patriot League titles and achieving NCAA Tournament berths in each of the three seasons. She was selected to a list of the 30 most promising collegiate soccer coaches under the age of 30 and was named Mid-Atlantic Assistant Coach of the Year in 2015.
Brown’s next move kept her close to home when she accepted a head coaching job at fellow Patriot League school Holy Cross. She joined a program that had been struggling for many years and led a major turnaround, leading them to their best season and first Patriot League Tournament appearance since 2000. In addition to Brown’s incredible coaching success, her focus on maintaining a strong balance between on and off the field responsibilities has made her a great fit for Penn.
“I’ve been in great environments and been surrounded by great people and mentors and feel very fortunate to be at Penn. I look for the right type of culture, the right type of leadership, and the right type of people that I want to be a part of as well as wanting to be a part of a high academic institution, and the combination of those things brought me here. I’m so fortunate to be at Penn and lead this group,” Brown said.
Brown’s transition has come at an unusual time and has required significant adaptability. Being hired at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, she has not yet met her players on the field. However, her athletes are enthusiastic about her and the direction of the program.
“It’s honesty really exciting. I think I can speak for some of my teammates as well that it is a positive change going in the right direction," sophomore fullback Peyton Raun said. "New coaching brings so much more light and each coach has so much knowledge, so that is great. Obviously, it’s tough given that we don’t necessarily have a season, but we have all agreed through our Zoom calls that it is so important to keep that motivation and continue to fuel the fire going forward to come back that much stronger."
Looking forward to the season, it is still uncertain exactly when the Ivy League and women’s soccer will be allowed to resume play. Most of Brown’s players are excited to get back on the field and have been training solo while maintaining social distancing.
“I commend her in so many ways. She’s done such a great job with this new transition. It’s the strangest scenario to be thrown into especially having not met any of us and trying to figure out what our personalities are," Raun said. "Obviously there are a lot of dynamics and over 30 players, so that’s a lot of people to get to know. It's really important that she’s so focused on building that strong bond, and that’s something you don’t hear a lot so that’s what stands out the most to us."