Competition is what makes University of Rhode Island women’s soccer coach Michael Needham tick. Whether he is playing or coaching, his competitive fire is what keeps him going.
His passion for the game has rubbed off on his players, as they doubled their win total from the previous season and finished 12-5-1 on the year. The squad made an appearance in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament this year for the first time under Needham.
“Well when you spend as much time around the game as I do [competing] is a part of that,” Needham, who was named College Sports Madness Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year, said. “When you’re done with your playing career you still want to compete. When I said [to myself], ‘what do you want to be doing?’ I thought teacher or coach. And the competitive part of me said coach.”
Needham came back to URI after a successful stint as the head coach for New Mexico State. He brought the program from the ground up, leading the Aggies to nine wins in their first-ever season and 16 wins the following season. It was tough for Needham to decide between building on his young and successful program or return to his alma mater. He was an assistant coach for the Rams prior to New Mexico State and he always wanted to return home. All he needed was an opportunity.
“I did like anyone else would, put my name in the hat [for the URI job],” Needham said. “I got a phone call and an interview. I wasn’t sure if was ready to leave New Mexico State, but when I got back to URI campus, I knew this was where I had to be.”
The Rams have evolved to become quite successful under Needham’s guidance. In his first season in 2011, Needham relished the challenge of mixing the upperclassmen with incoming talent. He said the rebuilding process was a great experience for himself and his players.
“Rebuilding is interesting,” Needham said. “I’ve had the opportunity to do both. Everyone expects you to compete, no one expects you to win. In term of a rebuild, it’s an entirely different challenge. I learned a lot about player management and other things but it’s tricky, I’ll be the first one to tell you that. The third year is the hardest. Anyone who doesn’t think the third year is the hardest has never done a rebuild.”
An injury-plagued 2013 season saw the Rams finish 6-12, a big step back from 11 wins in 2012.This year was different as the team’s focus was on another level in the offseason, and went into the season with a vengeance. They increased their win total in impressive fashion, but finished the year with a 1-0 loss in the Atlantic 10 Quarterfinals against George Washington University.
The Rams managed only one shot-on-goal in the first half. Despite getting more aggressive with three shots-on-goal in the second half, George Washington goalkeeper Miranda Horn stopped each of them.
Despite the early playoff exit, Needham focuses on the bigger picture, as there has been nothing but improvements every year for women’s soccer.
“I see constant growth, even last year,” Needham said. “Last year had to happen for us to be successful. I think our players changed their outlook because of a miserable year. We weren’t ready to win in year two. We needed that year to be successful long term. The players worked their butts off in the spring and in the summer. Looking back on my four years, I think we’ve done it right and now we’re ready to go for it. When you get a taste of success it’s contagious. I am ready to get back to work.”