When the 2010 women’s soccer season began, there was an air of optimism surrounding the veteran Belmont squad. Just four months later, after posting a disappointing 5-11 record, the program received national attention when head coach Lisa Howe exited the university after telling the team that she and her same-sex partner were expecting a child.
Players spoke out for their former coach, who they claim was forced out because of her sexual orientation. Several team members appeared on ESPN’s Outside The Lines, which aired nationally a week before Christmas.
The shock hasn’t subsided, but the team is trying to move on.
“Right now, speaking for me, I don’t feel stable about anything,” sophomore forward Lauren Paynter said. “I’m just trying to work as hard as I can each day. We’re all holding on and trying to work through this.”
The team is working with their assistant coaches while waiting for Belmont to find a new head coach. Twenty days after Howe left her position, Belmont posted the opening online.
“We have received letters of inquiry and formal applications from roughly 80 highly qualified and accomplished coaches,” athletics director Mike Strickland said. “We are currently evaluating each applicant, and should be in a position to move towards the interview phase of this process shortly,”
Belmont is hoping to have a new coach in place “in the coming weeks.” Howe has confirmed that she didn’t reapply for her former position.
Rico Laise, the managing director for Upper 90 management—a full service soccer entity in Nashville—believes that the recent media attention surrounding Belmont’s soccer program and the school’s hiring policies could have an effect on the coaching search.
“There is going to be that period where a lot of coaches take a look and say ‘Well, you know, I just don’t know. There’s going to be a lot of fodder there when I get there,’” Laise said.
“The situation that has been left behind, because of her dealings and the amount of players that remain there on scholarship, a lot of players that were loyal to that coach, may present a difficult task for the incoming coach.”
Laise, the former head coach of the Nashville Metros professional development soccer team, said that he doesn’t know of anyone that has applied.
“I’ve been really curious about that,” Laise said. “Generally, the soccer community is pretty open and there are not a whole lot of secrets out there, but I haven’t heard of a single applicant.”
Paynter said the team is trying to remain positive when it comes to the coaching search.
“We all have an open mind just because we can’t control what happened or anything,” Paynter said. “And it’s kind of exciting. Maybe we will get an awesome coach, who knows?”
But at the same time, there will still be a tall task at hand for whoever gets the job.
“With all this on the team, there’s kind of a disconnect right now of what it means to work hard and do it for the team,” Paynter said.
“It doesn’t seem like we are all together right now. It’s not a shock that we’re not, but hopefully the new coach, their main focus will be bringing the team together and moving us forward.”
Some of the players have briefly mentioned transferring, but Paynter said she doesn’t foresee players leaving the program.
“There have been people that have talked about (transferring), but I don’t think anyone seems like they are,” Paynter said. “I’m sure it’s in the back of some people’s heads, they just aren’t voicing it.”
In the meantime, the team will wait until at least February for a new coach—and a new beginning.
“I don’t think as a team we’ve completely moved on from it, but hopefully we will and there will be some light out of this,” Paynter said.