Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Soccer?s Swain waves goodbye to the valley

WRHS boys? varsity coach heads back to Connecticut

Express Staff Writer

Farrell Swain, shown here at Ketchum?s Atkinson Park, leaves the valley later this month to return to her home state of Connecticut. Her successor will be JV coach Matt Phillips. Photo by Willy Cook

Nowadays it's not unusual. Gasps of surprise when a woman takes on a role long-considered as the exclusive right of men are few and far between.

A woman running for President, taking the reins of a global company or becoming the world's best-selling author barely raises an eyebrow.

Except that is, when it comes to sports. Coaching duties for a men's sports team are still the almost exclusive domain of the male sex.

So, when 22-year-old, blonde-haired, green-eyed Farrell Swain moved to the Wood River Valley from Simsbury, Ct. in 2002 and asked for a job coaching soccer at Hailey's Wood River High School, even she was surprised to be offered the boys' junior varsity position.

"I was a bit unsure at first," she said. "I know girls' soccer, not boys. But then I met the varsity coach Brian Daluiso and he talked me into it. He was fantastic and great to work with. He built me up a little bit to the boys so they thought I was better than I really am!"

Swain quickly proved herself. When Daluiso announced in 2003 that he was stepping down after seven years, three state championships and a 96-24-11 record, he endorsed his assistant Swain to be the next varsity coach.

The first woman to coach boys varsity soccer in the seven years soccer has been sanctioned by the Idaho High School Activities Association, Swain has had a successful three-year run guiding the Wolverines varsity team.

Swain, now 27, was with the Wolverine program five years—two with the JV and three with the varsity. She compiled an impressive 34-21-3 record, easily stomping on the comments of those female-coaching-boys'-soccer naysayers.

It's time for a change, though.

This month, Swain is returning to her roots, leaving the valley to take up a position as head coach of the Ethel Walker School's girls' varsity team, in her hometown of Simsbury.

"I'll also be working as Assistant Dean of Admissions," she said. "It's a small, private all-girls boarding and day school. They have about 250 students."

But she is proud of what she has accomplished with Wood River.

"They've done very well. The first year we had an undefeated regular season and went to the state tournament. The second year we went to state too, and won a game against Emmett, it was a fantastic game," she said in a wistful tone. "Last year was a little rocky, we had our ups and downs. We had a very young team."

Swain certainly knows what it's like to play top-level soccer.

An All-American in soccer at Simsbury High School in Connecticut as well as an Olympic Development Player, Swain won a national championship with her Connecticut Premier club team in 2000.

She was a college freshman at the University of New Hampshire when the Wildcats climbed to runner-up in the America League East. She went on to co-captain the UNH soccer team and be named All-Conference in her senior year of college.

Alongside her impressive career as a soccer player, Swain holds a degree in sports management from UNH. Now, she is returning to girls' soccer as a head prep school coach.

She identifies her biggest challenge in this new role as segueing from working with boys to coaching girls, alongside dealing with a very small talent pool.

"One of the challenges will be the small numbers. Wood River is small but this school is really small," she said. "I may have to change my style of coaching or at least tweak it a little bit to make sure I'm relatable to the girls. I'll need to figure out how to make the most out of them, make them play to the best of their ability."

However, Swain is no stranger to coaching girls' teams. During her time in the valley, she has worked with the Sawtooth United girls' club teams (U13 and U18 age groups).

What is the biggest difference between coaching boys and girls?

"I've been asked that question 20 times and it's so hard to come up with an answer," she said. "But I guess it is motivation. How to motivate them is one of the biggest differences. Boys you need to ride them a little harder, but girls you can't and shouldn't ride them as much."

At Wood River, she said, any resistance to her being a female coach never came from within the program.

She said, "I didn't have any problems with the boys. I was nervous for the first five minutes, but then I had a great time with the kids. They took to me and I took to them. With the players I coached I never felt uncomfortable being female.

"It was mostly the other teams' coaches and the referees," she said. "You could just see the surprise on their faces. But whenever that happened it gave me more incentive to want to go out and beat them.

"I had a kid on my team who was 6 foot 2, Dixon Mooseau. The refs would go up to him at the beginning of the game and say 'Hey coach, can we have your roster?' and he would be like, 'No. It's that little blonde girl over there.'"

Taking over the varsity from her mentor Daluiso in 2004 was a huge honor for Swain. She was hesitant to alter much of the program.

She said, "I kept a lot of things that the program had been known for, drills etc. I wanted to honor the history of an exceptional program, but also adding in what I've learned over the years.

"As a coach, I expect a lot and I demand a lot but I'm not a screamer and a yeller. I don't run up and down the sidelines. Come game time it's their show. I run the practice and the players run the games."

Swain is taking many fond memories of her time in the valley with her when she heads Back East later this month.

"I'm most proud of all the players I've had. I've seen them grow, not only on the soccer field but I've become friends with these guys. I've learned so much from them. They have the ability to progress and the want and desire to become better athletes and better people," she said.

Swain is confident the Wolverine program is in good hands.

"They have a fantastic head coach now, Matt Phillips (previously the JV coach). He has so much knowledge and so much background; they're so lucky," she said. "The future looks bright, especially as we had such a young team last year—we had five freshmen, very unusual. It will be a team to watch in the next few years."

Swain, daughter of a former professional hockey player and sister of current Sun Valley Suns hockey player Adam Swain, sees this move as an important step in fulfilling her dream of a coaching career.

"I'm so excited to be going home," she said. "It's going to be a hard transition, but I'm so excited to pursue my career. I'm ready to get back there and have a new group of students to coach, but I'm going to call these boys every day. I'm really going to miss them."

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