Women's soccer Head Coach Paul Vasconcelos discusses game strategy amid the huddle of his team. His Lynx have won eight conference championships and more than 200 games in his 15 years of coaching here.
Sports have one simple, merciless measurement — victory — but the best coaches understand that the scoreboard doesn't tell the whole story of the competitors under their care.
Our Women's Soccer team, the most successful of our athletic squads, boasts a head coach who has led them to unparalleled dominance on the pitch while also attending to their well-being, even outside of practices and games.
Head Coach Paul Vasconcelos, who on Sept. 1 reached the 200-win milestone in 15 years of coaching at Lesley, is reluctant to accept any accolades, however.
“I waited two years to win one game,” Vasconcelos quips, alluding to the COVID-scuttled 2020 soccer season. More seriously, he insists that the quality of players is what makes him and any coach successful.
“We have really, really talented student-athletes. The coaching really has little to do with it,” Vasconcelos says, referring to the 27 women on this year’s roster, as well as the players of his past teams. “I’m spoiled with really good players.”
Vasconcelos, who is from Portugal though was raised in Stoughton, Massachusetts, played professional soccer in his country of origin right out of high school, learning his eventual profession on the pitch, rather than in college.
Calling himself “a very lazy midfielder,” he began his collegiate coaching career as an assistant at Emerson College for three years before being hired as Lesley’s men’s coach in 2005, the team’s inaugural season. It was a part-time position but, within two years, was hired full-time to also coach the Lynx women (he stopped coaching the men’s team six years ago).
In 2007, his first season as women’s coach, the team that had won only two games the previous year improved to 14-4-1, and the victories kept piling up to the tune of eight New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) championships and seven Division III National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) appearances.
“We joke around that we are the football team,” Vasconcelos says about the confidence that winning has bred among his players. “They walk differently,” with swagger, knowing that “Lesley is the kind of place that has always championed women.”
One of those women, current player Sophie Smurthwaite ’22, applauds the coach's dedication and consistency with checking in on his players off the field, either through a text message or phone call. And his concern begins even before the player ever laces up the cleats for the Lynx.
“It is safe to say that Coach was at every single one of my showcase games in high school, before I even committed to Lesley,” says Smurthwaite, a senior defender from Woodland Hills, California. “It didn’t matter where my games were, California, Las Vegas or Boston, I could always count on him or one of his assistants being there watching.
“Even now, as a senior, I know (he) will be there for me no matter what and will continuously push me to be better.”
But the success hasn’t always come easy for Vasconcelos and his team, who face new challenges. The closing of several colleges in the area and some schools opting out of the NECC has reduced the roster of opponents. The Lynx must also contend with the challenges of playing for an urban university that shares practice facilities and fields with other teams. However, Vasconcelos says he is buoyed by the support of President Janet L. Steinmayer’s commitment to our athletic programs.
He also marvels at the commitment of players who come to Lesley. Many of them move 3,000 miles to play here — 10 players hail from California; several others are from Utah, Colorado and Oregon — yet they transcend the travails of homesickness and maintain their GPAs while competing in Division III sports.
“It’s tough to come across the country and play for some loudmouth coach,” says Vasconcelos, adding that he is equally impressed with his team’s collective 3.6 grade point average as he is with their proficiency on the pitch.
“When I first started, it was all about winning and winning and winning,” Vasconcelos says. “Now, I’m looking at my retention rate and graduation rate.”
And though the rules and dimensions governing the playing field remain the same, the nature of the coaching field has changed, Vasconcelos finds.
“These kids are much more athletic, much more skilled” than when Vasconcelos first began coaching, he says. “They’ve been exposed to better coaching at an earlier age.”
In addition, he says, “I’m the team shrink. I’m the second dad,” as well as quartermaster and travel agent, managing all manner of off-field logistics to keep the ball rolling.
Our Director of Athletics Stephanie Smyrl describes Vasconcelos's dedication as "endless," and credits him with building a successful Women's Soccer program that succeeds year after year.
"Paul's committed to recruiting student-athletes that excel in the classroom and win on the field, a combination that contributed to his recent 200th win," she notes.
Soccer fans and, certainly, opposing teams are aware of Lynx victories, but they're only getting half the story. Outsiders, Vasconcelos says, “don’t understand that behind the scenes we’re getting meal money and arranging transportation.”
The passage of time is another opponent, Vasconcelos indicates. He ages, but his teams and recruits every year remain 17-22, occasionally making communication more challenging.
“I really rely on our assistant coaches,” who tend to be young former players of his, Vasconcelos says. “I don’t pretend I know everything.”
Yet, with eight conference championships, seven visits to the NCAA tournament and a laser focus on advancing past the tournament’s first round for the first time, Vasconcelos must concede he’s doing something right. Right?
“I went to nine weddings last year” of Lynx alumni, he says. “My wife says when they stop inviting you to their weddings, it’s over.”