Earlier this week, the Whitman women’s soccer team suffered a setback that may be felt on the team for years to come. Former women’s soccer Head Coach Heather Cato has left Whitman for another coaching opportunity at Rogers State University in Oklahoma.
Though coaching changes are often beneficial to struggling programs with subpar coaches, Cato was not considered a subpar coach, and the women’s soccer program had a solid record of 11-9 last season. Cato cites personal reasons and the opportunity to be closer to home as reasons for her decision.
Despite surprise and sadness at the loss of their coach, the women’s team is grateful for all Cato has done and is optimistic about the future of their program.
“I think [the team] seemed shocked at the time. It was new news and it was hard. Heather [Cato] has done a great job of connecting personally and in a professional way with the athletes,” said Whitman Athletics Director Dean Snider.
However, in the team meeting immediately following the announcement of Cato’s departure, Snider was optimistic about the future and reminded the players of his intent to continue helping the program improve.
“The next time I talked with them, they understood and agreed that this was good for both Coach Cato and her family. And I think they’re excited about the prospects that I had,” said Snider.
The team captains for the year look to continue business as usual in the off-season. Though this does pose a challenge for the team going forward, the captains and the rest of the players are on the same page regarding practices, leaving only a few obstacles ahead.
“I think the biggest setback we are facing is organization. The team just has to take on bigger responsibility when it comes to spring practices, workouts and planning our trip to England this upcoming summer. But the team has been great so far in sticking together and making everything work in these regards,” said sophomore captain and midfielder Kelsey Peck.
As far as the search for a new head coach goes, there are already numerous options for Snider and the team to consider.
“When I spoke with Dean [Snider] 48 hours after they had opened up the search, they already had 35 candidates, and I think now it’s [more than] 50, so we’ve had a great turnout,” said junior captain and forward Jade Anderson.
Although a new coach will inevitably bring a new dynamic to the team, Snider and the captains are looking to identify characteristics that Cato displayed well and find a new coach with similar characteristics.
“Coach Cato did a great job building relationships with the players and the school and the program here at Whitman. We’ll be looking for someone who’s going to have our students’ best interest in mind,” said Snider.
The players reflected on Cato’s strengths.
“Among many important things that Cato brought to our team, I think her concept of family was the most important. She realized that while we are an athletic team, we are also an important support system for one another. That is one thing that we are really looking for the new coach to bring in as well,” said Peck.
Since she started with Whitman women’s soccer in the summer of 2010, Cato has totaled 30 wins over four seasons. Her most recent season was most notable; the team started with a record of 5-0 and concluded the season with a 3-game winning streak. Cato coached 17 All-NWC players as well as 37 Academic All-NWC athletes.
Snider is looking to fill the position sooner rather than later to put the new coach in a position where he or she can carry out recruiting for next season and spend the greatest possible amount of time with the team.
“We want to make sure we get someone selected as soon as possible for various reasons. We want to find someone who is excellent and ready to take this role and also someone who is able to complete our recruiting process this year. And, finally, we want someone who, if possible, is able to work with our student athletes during spring training, so they can get an idea for what their program will look like next year,” said Snider.
Though the team is understandably upset about Cato leaving, they are fully supportive of her future and optimistic about their own.
“As a team, we are all really going to miss Cato. She was a great coach for us and for the program, and although we’re sad to see her go, we’re glad she’s taking advantage of such a great opportunity for herself,” said Peck.