Some 30 years ago, Kevin Sherry – a dazzling soccer player in his own right – got his first-ever soccer head coaching job at Burlington Danes High School in London.
For the next two decades, he would bounce around the world coaching the global sport in places like Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Nagoya, Japan before heading to the United States to coach in Iowa and Illinois.
Then came June 15, 2007 when Sherry was introduced as the new women’s soccer head coach at Louisiana Tech University.
For Sherry, there were ultimately three things that influenced that decision to take this job.
“The positivity of [Deputy Athletics Director] Mary Kay Hungate during my visit and her great encouragement to join the department.”
“Everyone I spoke with, from the President down, used the word “integrity” when talking about Louisiana Tech. Integrity is a very important ethos in my life.”
“The challenge. Everyone told me turning LA Tech into a winning program could not be done. I had already turned around two other programs and was confident I could do the same here. I love proving that nothing is impossible.”
So after inheriting a program that was still a toddler at only three-years of age with a combined record of 11-30-5, Sherry’s impact over the last 11 years has been simply put – transcendent.
Let’s go ahead and start with the on-the-pitch results.
The drastic turn-around happened quite quickly, as in year No. 2 quick, when the Lady Techsters went from being 2-14-1 to posting a 10-5-5 mark, one of the biggest improvements in NCAA women’s soccer that year.
Fast forward to 2010. LA Tech put together an extraordinary season, winning a school-record 15 matches (a record that still stands to this day) while qualifying for the Western Athletic Conference Tournament for the first time ever.
It was good timing since the Lady Techsters hosted the postseason tournament at the Lady Techster Soccer Complex which was highlighted by a fresh 115x70 feet of cut grass in only its second year of existence.
Now let’s take a look at the last four years in Conference USA. Sherry has guided the squad to a combined 53-23-10 record during that time span, proving several people wrong in the process.
In 2014, they were picked to finish 12th out of 14 teams in the preseason. They finished tied for fourth. Qualified for the C-USA Tournament for the first time ever. Big check mark.
In 2015, they were picked to finish 11th out of 14 teams in the preseason. They finished tied for sixth. Qualified for the C-USA Tournament.
In 2016, it was déjà vu. They were picked to finish 11th out of 14 teams in the preseason. They finished fifth, qualifying for the C-USA Tournament. Again. *As a bonus, Sherry picked up career win No. 100 at LA Tech
Last season, they were given a little more respect in the preseason poll, predicted to finish seventh out of 14 teams. They still trumped that one too, finishing fourth and qualifying for the C-USA Tournament. Yet again.
Only eight squads qualify for the postseason tourney each year. They are one of only three teams to qualify each of the last four seasons. The other two are North Texas and Rice who have called the shots in the league, finishing one-two three of the four years.
The yearly underdog story would never have been possible without the creation and development of a new team culture in the beginning of Sherry’s direction. Inserted were the four pillars – Service, Passion, Respect, Fearless.
“Every program is different and have different norms and values inherited from previous coaches. Once I observed this program, it became clear that things needed to change significantly off the field if the program was to improve on it. This shaped the direction of our team culture and choice of our pillars.”
As impressive as the soccer performances have been, the performances off the field have been just as staggering.
For 10 straight years, the team has been honored with the United Soccer Coaches (formerly the NSCAA) Team Academic Award for their efforts in the classroom.
Since joining C-USA, LA Tech has totaled a league-best 134 C-USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll recipients, maintaining a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better.
Twenty-four Lady Techsters have also earned a total of 47 Academic Medals (GPA of 3.75 or better). One of those players was Kathryn Sloan who was named the 2016 CoSIDA Academic All-America of the Year for Division I Women’s Soccer, becoming the first ever student-athlete at Louisiana Tech to earn this honor.
Another huge impact by the program has been through their community service, hours upon hours upon hours of community service.
Boys and Girls Club in Ruston, Special Olympics, St. Jude Radiothon, Relay for Life, YMCA Shreveport, DART, Scouting for Food, Habitat for Humanity, 4Paws. That’s just to name a few.
And oh yeah, the team has spent several hours after practices, and even some games, providing free soccer clinics.
“I am so proud of everything; the academic scores, the community service hours, the soccer records we continually break, the sportsmanship of the players and their commitment.
“But if there was one aspect which makes me the proudest is seeing the quality of the people walking across the stage at graduation and seeing the effect that being in our soccer program can have.”
Prior to LA Tech, Sherry spent four seasons at Graceland University. Then two years at Western Illinois.
His initial plan was the same in Ruston. Turn around a program and then move on to find another program to help revive.
Eleven years later and he is still here.
Outside of practices and matches, he can often be found sweating in the Louisiana heat taking special care of the pitch. Or watching over it through the cracked-open blinds from his office – a space that tells hundreds of stories with the photos and memorabilia covering every inch of wall space – across Alabama Ave.
“I have stayed because of many reasons including the joy of living in Ruston, enjoying the house we live in and becoming part of the soccer community in North Louisiana. But the main reason is emotional attachment.
“Turning this program around was the biggest challenge of my professional career. I now feel deeply invested in maintaining the success.”
Not many active head coaches have been at LA Tech longer. In fact, there is only one as track and field/cross country head coach Gary Stanley still stakes claim to the title with the longest tenure at 30 years.
To put 11 years into further perspective, the very first iPhone came out in 2007. There are now 18 models of iPhone. The film “Transformers” came out in 2007 as well. The series has made four more sequels ever since with a spin-off coming this summer.
Not sure how many people would have believed 11 years ago that the LA Tech soccer program would have sustained this level of success, like this past athletic season when they produced the highest winning percentage of any LA Tech sport at 75 percent (14-3-5 record).
It is a testament to coach Sherry, his support staffs along the way and the players who have kept, and continue to keep, proving people wrong while living the embodiment of the four pillars.