Women’s soccer: Kephart begins coaching career

By Greg Trietley

From 2007 to 2010, Morie Kephart provided the Pitt women’s soccer team with stellar… From 2007 to 2010, Morie Kephart provided the Pitt women’s soccer team with stellar goalkeeping.

If the lights-out goalkeeping continues this season, Kephart might receive some congratulations for that, too.

Kephart joins the Panthers as a volunteer assistant coach this year, one season after she concluded a Pitt career that broke school records for career wins (19), shutouts (19) and goals-against average (1.07).

For Kephart, who started 56 games in four seasons at Pitt, the biggest challenge is simply staying on the sidelines and fighting the urge to play, she said.

“It’s really hard not playing,” she said. “That’s probably the hardest part. It’s hard just sitting on the bench during games.”

Pitt head coach Sue-Moy Chin said that Kephart always showed interest in coaching.

“Being a goalkeeper, you see the field a lot, being a leader,” Chin said. “She’s a natural leader. It was a natural transition for her to move from the player side of things to the coaching realm.”

Kephart said her attachment to Pitt made the decision to stay with the women’s soccer program simple.

“I love the city,” she said. “I’m really invested in the program. I still know all the girls, so it feels like home. I wanted to stay at home, and I wanted to pursue my passion of coaching, so it seemed like a perfect fit.”

In her new role, Kephart has primarily mentored Pitt’s current goalkeepers, senior Kristina Rioux and redshirt freshman Nicole D’Agostino, who have both played in games this season The Panthers put together a 1-2-1 record so far this year, mostly recently losing to James Madison 6-0 and defeating Delaware 1-0 in the James Madison Tournament over the weekend.

For Kephart and the team, it’s not much of a change — the returning members of the Panthers all played with her last season.

“It’s the same thing almost [as when she was playing],” Rioux, who served as a backup to Kephart from 2008 to 2010, said.

Although Rioux didn’t see any game action in those three years, during that time Kephart learned her style, and vice versa.

“She’s more of an aggressive goalkeeper,” Rioux said of Kephart. “She controls her area really well and communicates more with the back four. I think I’m a little bit more laid-back and deeper in my net, more of a reflex kind of thing. She’s more technical, but it doesn’t really matter that much. We both have a give-and-take.”

The back four are the four players in the back of a defensive formation.

Because she knows the styles of her squad’s goalkeepers so well, Kephart has an rare advantage for a new coach.

“She was with me for three years, so she knows where I need to improve,” Rioux said. “She knows the areas I need to focus on. It’s a lot easier having her. She’s a player. She knows how it is.”

At Tuesday’s practice, Kephart worked with Rioux on “back-to-the-bar” plays. Rioux said that several recent goals have whizzed over her head, so Kephart spent time with her to work on her technique.

“That’s a huge weakness in my game, and she was helping me with that, because that’s how goals have been scored recently,” Rioux said. “She knows my weaknesses and how to push me.”

The leadership Kephart brought from the goal line during her playing days also carries over to her coaching position, Chin said.

“The girls respect her,” she said. “The ones that played with her look up to her as a leader, so that’s a natural transition for her.”

And although coaching may be new to her — this coaching position is her first — the team’s system isn’t, which eliminates some of the growing pains.

“She knows the game,” Chin said. “She understands our system and how we want to play here, so it’s an easy thing for us.”

In mentoring Rioux and D’Agostino, Kephart will work with Chris Logan. He, too, is a new hire, but unlike Kephart and new assistant coach Malorie Rutledge, he brings coaching experience to the staff. Logan has worked with goalkeepers at Lake Erie College, Cleveland Whitecaps FC and Slippery Rock University.

Pitt is Rutledge’s first coaching job. The Philadelphia Independence of the Women’s Professional Soccer league drafted Rutledge, a three-time All-American at LSU, following her college career but knee injuries forced her to give up playing the game in 2010.

Chin said the coaches will balance each other between experience and youth.

“They all bring different things and different perspectives,” Chin said. We’ve meshed pretty well. We’re trying to evolve our younger coaches to get them to see the other sides of the game, and what coaching is about.”

Part of that evolution is expanding Kephart’s role beyond that of a goalkeeper coach. She also has been working with Pitt’s back four, and Chin said that her coaching role will continue to grow, although currently the focus is with the goalkeepers and defenders.

“That was a big part of her game, organizing and communicating with the back four,” Rioux said. “That’s a weaker part of my game, so she’s able to not only help us with our communication but also help the back four and where they should be positioned. Not only is she a really good goalkeeper but she understands the game really well. She knows where the center backs should be and situations like that, so she’s able to coach them and not just us.”