If you were pressed to answer a multiple choice question that asked what the winningest team
at North Greenville University has been over the last two seasons, would you choose a) football, b)
men’s basketball, c) softball, or d) women’s soccer. The obvious selection would be one of the first
three, but the correct answer is d), women’s soccer.
Surprised? The women’s soccer team, under the direction of second year head coach Jesse
McCormick, has rapidly become a force in the National Collegiate Christian Athletic Association (NCCAA),
having reached the South Regional’s last year, and heading into the final games of the fall 2009
schedule, should again be one of the top seeds. The Crusaders set an all-time best record last season at
11-5 and are off to an 8-4 mark this year despite having elevated the schedule immensely. The team is
currently ranked third in the South Region and is an almost certain lock for a regional bid again.
McCormick is realistic about the team’s goals and overall progress, but has his sights set down
the road a few years. “We beat Southern Wesleyan in the regular season last year, but we ended up
losing to Palm Beach Atlantic at the regionals,” McCormick said. “But, Southern Wesleyan went on to
the nationals, so we know we can compete with those teams. Our principal goal is to get out of the
regional tournament this year and make it to nationals. Our men’s team did that a few years ago under
Coach Chad Gfeller (currently NGU men’s coach). He did a great job getting the men there, and now,
that’s our plan for this year; get to nationals. That’s not something you can flip a switch at the end of
the season and make happen. It takes a lot of hard work to build to that point.”
The rapid ascension of the women’s soccer program hasn’t been an instant phenomenon.
McCormick notes that Gfeller has been a major contributor to the program’s present winning ways.
“Chad has done tons for this program,” McCormick exclaimed. “He started both soccer programs at
NGU five years ago, and his hard work in developing the new Pepsi Soccer Stadium a few years ago was
key. Our facility is one of the nicest in the nation among Division II facilities. It has also been huge to
get the lights up this season (NGU now has a lighted field – see NGU story from last issue). He
established the recruiting base and we’ve been able to build a team. We’re just now starting to jell
where you don’t have to bring in new players every year. Chad laid the foundation for the program and
made my job a lot easier. “
McCormick joined Gfeller as an assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s
teams prior to the 2005 season, and was named the women’s head coach on June 3, 2008.
He graduated from Bob Jones University in 2005 with a Bachelor’s degree in Health, Fitness,
and Recreation, and is a National Association of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified personal
trainer, and has his National Association of Speed and Explosion (NASE) certification, as
well as his USSF coaching C license. The native of Greenville, SC is the NCCAA Division I
South Region Chair for women’s soccer, and has been to Brazil six times on soccer mission
North Greenville’s success on the soccer pitch is quickly attributed to one source by
McCormick. “In reality, God is going to bring in the players he wants to at NGU. “I’m going to go out
and recruit, but as an institution and a program, we put God first. That’s major plus for us because we
we are recruiting players who understand our mission and want to be here. I recruit at a lot of area
club tournaments, and check out the high schools, but at a lot of the big tournaments, they’ll have
player profiles that give information on the players. Through those, I can find out if the top players are
attracted to a school like North Greenville because it is a Christian school. I do have an advantage
because a lot of players want to be in an environment like ours.”
Admittedly, North Greenville isn’t for everyone. The mission of the institution is clearly stated
by Dr. James Epting, the school’s president. NGU is a place “Where Christ makes the Difference,” and
that holds true for the soccer team as well. “When we go out recruiting, we try to find players who will
thrive at North Greenville,” McCormick said. “Chad initially contacted a lot of players and they went to
other schools. But, eventually they ended up transferring in because they wanted to be in an
environment like NGU. We emphasize highly competitive soccer in Christ-like biblically sound location.
That makes a great combination that people are looking for. We’re pretty up front with players recruits
because we want them to know exactly what they’re getting at NGU.”
It hasn’t hurt that North Greenville is winning games of late. “Something that’s
really helped us has been winning more games against the quality teams in the region,” McCormick
added. “I’ve had a lot more players start to contact me because of the success we’ve had. As our
program continues to grow and as the school grows, I’m getting feedback from a soccer standpoint;
however, a lot of players have heard of NGU from an academic perspective and a big one is the overall
cost of the institution which is much less than comparable institutions in the region. I recently had a
good player from Florida contact me, so we’re starting to get noticed.”
McCormick mentioned the hard work that has been necessary to build the program. One of the
biggest attribution points related to the program’s recent accomplishments is the willingness of the
current players to give it 100%. “My goal as a coach is to communicate to the players that they must
give it their best day in and day out,” he noted. “This needs to be a constant in every area of their lives.
We’ve worked hard to develop that mentality on the field and in the classroom. I can only do so much
as a coach, so a lot depends on the mentality of the players. They have to step up as a team; they have
to encourage and challenge their teammates so that it’s not just me pushing them to excel. They must
get the pressure from their teammates that it’s not o.k. to just go out and get by. They must push
themselves to succeed.”
Players like Kaeleigh Meara (SR Greenville, SC), Jessica Binkley (SR Simpsonville, SC), Leah Ward
(SO, Waynesville, NC), Ashlyn Henderson (SO Atlanta, GA), Hayley Williams (JR Fairmont, NC), and many
others have come to NGU and have become the frontrunners to developing a winning program.
Williams transferred in this year and has scored 10 goals in 12 games, Ward has scored eight goals, and
Henderson has eight to lead the scoring by the Crusaders. Binkley, a four-year starter in goal, has two
shutout victories and has 38 saves on the season.
The Crusader women are just now starting to develop the consistency that has caused a few
eyebrows to be raised among South Region opponents. NGU was the #1 seed going into the regional’s
last year, and will receive a high ranking once again. McCormick explains, “We’re playing the teams
where we just used to be a number on their schedule. Now, it’s the other way around. We’re starting
to beat them, yet those same teams have more depth and look like a better team than us on paper. Our
ability to raise our level has allowed us to have success against them. In the near future, we want to
continue to raise the level of our play by dropping some of the easier games and playing better teams.
That will get us more notice and then we’ll be able to bring in even better players.”
McCormick’s overall goal for the North Greenville women’s soccer program is to become a
primary destination for the region’s best female soccer players. “We are just now starting to get the
attention of the best players in the area,” McCormick concluded. Eventually, we’ll find those stars who
want to be at our great institution, and then we’ll continue our move even further up the scale.”
At that point, NGU women’s soccer will no longer be multiple choice answer. It will be the first
choice for female soccer players.