For those remaining Brown University sports fans — and I know how few of us there have been over the years — please don’t take women’s head soccer coach Kia McNeill for granted.
After former women’s head soccer coach Phil Pincince, an Ivy League legend, announced his retirement ahead of the 2015 season, Brown went through an exhaustive head coaching search, interviewing 115 candidates. They eventually settled on a rising star in McNeill, who had national success at both her alma mater Boston College — as a player and a coach — and Northeastern, two forces in New England collegiate athletics.
Over the four years since her first season at Brown, McNeill has kept Brown competitive in the Ivy League every season and her teams have never dipped below .500 overall. Going 4-1-2 in conference play, McNeill took a team she didn’t recruit and finished second in the league. What was evident and impressive even then was the mindset from the players in the transition to their new head coach. At a school where 30 percent of recruited athletes quit their respective sports, only one underclassman from Pincince’s last team did not make it to McNeill’s inaugural season.
In 2016, McNeill spoke of aspirations to recruit players across the world with the simple pitch of an athletic experience combined with an Ivy League degree. And while she has not reached other continents quite yet, this year’s team features recruits from 13 states and Puerto Rico.
And even when half of the stadium seating is unusable, the crowd and energy at Brown’s 1-0 win over Penn was palpable from over the TV screen. That type of buzz for Brown sports is rare, but it is usually correlated with success.
In my four years at the University, from 2014 to 2018, I saw exactly one team I followed — men’s lacrosse — win an Ivy League conference championship. But, no matter what your favorite sport is, chances are Brown just has not been good at it recently. Whether it be from lack of investment or community apathy toward Brown sports, what used to be a competitive Ivy League athletic program has fallen behind.
The men’s lacrosse teams in 2015 and 2016 were transcendent: With recruits that went on to play professionally, Brown won the Ivy League in back-to-back years, made its first ever NCAA semifinal and played incredibly in front of a national audience. The school invested in our lacrosse and soccer fields, which Lars Tiffany ’90, men’s lacrosse head coach at the time, lauded as a critical piece of the program’s ability to “compete at the highest level.” But when the University of Virginia came for Tiffany, Brown University just was not able to keep the coach that had brought us our first conference title since 1995.
And as the 2016 men’s lacrosse team was gearing toward a chase for back-to-back conference championships, McNeill was interviewed in The Herald and had the same mindset: an Ivy League championship.
“They’ve won 12 Ivy League championships; I’d love to get us to lucky number 13,” McNeill said at the time.
After 6 games undefeated in 2019, McNeill, Brown, and the first-years-now-seniors she coached in 2016 have their first taste of Ivy League glory. In fact, it’s the women’s soccer team’s first conference championship in 25 years. They will now be playing for a national championship. There’s truly nothing in Brown athletics quite like the atmosphere of a playoff game. When I was at Brown, we did not get many.
So whichever Brown University sports fan you are — player, coach, student, alumni, administrator — just please don’t take it for granted.
Matt Brownsword ’18 can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and op-eds to email@example.com.