From play to coach

Pat Hickey

USI head coach Krissy Engelbrecht knows a thing or two about being a part of a winning soccer program.

A standout forward at Evansville from 1996 to 1999, Engelbrecht was a three-time Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) player of the year that won four consecutive conference title games and clinched as many postseason berths. In March, she will add a new accolade to her already-decorated career: Hall of Famer.

Now entering her 10th season as the USI women’s soccer head coach, only Engelbrecht would be “shocked” to find out she would become the first student-athlete from UE to be inducted into the MVC Hall of Fame. 

Mick Lyon, Engelbrecht’s head coach during of her four years with the Purple Aces, was not surprised.  He landed his former star player her first coaching gig as an assistant with UE after her playing days were over. 

“She had the willpower and desire to win that far outweighed any opponent she played against,” Lyon said. “She didn’t yell and scream. She just had that quiet determination that was greatly admired. If she wanted to accomplish something, she would. She pushed herself athletically, past her limits, and that’s what separated her.”

She often played with her uniform often mud-stained and through nagging injuries without ever daring to admit them to her coaches.

“She would do everything humanely possible to give her team the chance to win,” Lyon said.

Engelbrecht ranks second in UE women’s soccer history with 45 goals and 106 points. She also received the most votes of anyone in the MVC Women’s Soccer All-Centennial team. She has become the face of soccer in Evansville, serving as the Director of Player Coaching for the Evansville Soccer Club and director of player development for both the Blitz and Lady Blitz soccer organizations.

An exact definition of a team player, the always-humbled Engelbrecht is not likely to take the credit for her success during her induction speech in St. Louis, Mo.

“No one on our teams cared who scored or got the credit,” Engelbrecht said. “They just wanted to win. We had that attitude when we stepped onto the field that we were going to beat you. Mental toughness is half the battle.”

And, players with that attitude are just the type Engelbrecht likes to recruit since she’s taken over the program that was in need of rebuilding. 

“(I want) blue-collar players, someone who works hard, loves the game, and doesn’t settle for less because hard work beats talent at this level,” Engelbrecht said. “You can put them into the system and teach them how to play at the next level, but you can’t teach them to work towards it.”

Once, during a game against Colorado College, Engelbrecht tackled an opposing dribbler so fiercely it nearly knocked her out of the game, which was already a Purple Aces blowout at the time. Lyon said it was a clean tackle, but Engelbrecht was given a red card and ejected from the game. When Lyon asked the referee why, he said, “Because nobody can tackle that hard.” Lyon laughed and walked away without a protest.

Engelbrecht has guided the Eagles to three straight winning seasons (30-22-6) and Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament appearances. As USI enters its first regular-season matchup against Ohio Dominican on the road Thursday, Engelbrecht said that her friendship with Lyon over the years continues to play an important role as she learns what works and what doesn’t. 

“I remember from coaching under him that he really understands the tactics of successful team play,” she said. “We still talk about formations and stuff on the phone occasionally.

“As I’ve gotten older and been away from playing the game, I don’t get as frustrated quickly with players and assuming they know what I want. I think women’s athletes especially don’t react well to yelling an screaming. Getting away from playing more has helped that.”

To both Lyon and Engelbrecht, it’s all about forming relationships with their players’ best interest in mind, and gaining trust. Where Lyon’s players trust him with executing the X’s and O’s, Engelbrecht’s players believe that they’ll go into each match ready to perform and compete.

“I think she’s definitely still a little kid at heart,” senior forward Susan Ellsperman said. “She loves this game. She doesn’t try to teach something she doesn’t know and gives us that mentality a successful team needs to have to go into each match. When she talks, we listen.”