A Catskill Catalog: February 22, 2012

The 1990 soccer season was Roxbury’s year. Both the boys’ and girls’ teams won sectional titles. The boys ended their season in their next outing, losing their first intersectional game, but the girls marched on, making the Final Four of the New York State Championships in Syracuse.

But it was November, and the title-run extension of soccer season overlapped with basketball. Roxbury, in the ’80s and ’90s, was a three-sport power in both the boys’ and girls’ programs. More soccer did not mean less basketball. The girls’ varsity soccer team prepared for their semi-final championship game out on the field. The girls’ varsity basketball team prepared for their upcoming season in the gym.

So, the night before the big soccer game, Laurie Darling went to basketball practice. Laurie was a senior three-sport, stand-out in soccer, basketball, and softball, and the Daily Star Girls’ Soccer Player-of-the-Year.

Ron Cumming coached the girls’ soccer team. His team had been coming into its own over several seasons. Three years earlier, they’d announced their arrival, winning Stamford’s Mayor’s Cup Tournament with quality student-athletes like Christie Hait, Peggy and Nancy Heisler, and Laurie Darling, then just a freshman.

Now that freshman was a senior, with the biggest game of her soccer life in front of her, lacing up her sneakers for a night-before basketball practice. How crushed she must have felt when she turned-over her ankle, and hobbled home, on crutches, with a badly sprained ankle and instructions from the coaching staff to soak her ankle in ice for 15 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of room-temperature rest.

Laurie sat up all night, sometimes dozing as her ankle sat in a bucket of ice, always stirring herself awake before a quarter-hour passed, so she could pull her ankle out and let it rest. Fifteen minutes in, 15 minutes out, all night long, till daybreak.

The next day, she entered school on crutches. Her father, Larry Darling, was president of the Roxbury School Board that year. Whenever the superintendent saw Larry, he approached him about school business. Not this morning: “How’s the leg?”

The leg wasn’t good, but the kid played. Roxbury lost that semi-final game, but Laurie and her teammates refused to slow up because of injury.

Twenty-one years later, Coach Laurie Darling Gutheil of the College of St. Rose in Albany is 2011’s two-time NCAA Division II Coach-of-the-Year, and coach of the reigning National Champions in Division II Women’s Soccer, the St. Rose Golden Knights.

The road from here to there was a long one. It included starting every women’s soccer game, but one, for Hartwick College, graduating in 1995 with a degree in history and the President’s Cup as top female scholar-athlete, then earning a master’s degree in Guidance & Counseling at Sage College.

While in graduate school, Laurie answered an advertisement for an assistant soccer coach at St. Rose, got the job, and the following year inherited the head coaching position.

“My high school team could have beat us that first year,” Laurie told me about the beginnings of her tenure at St. Rose. “But the plan was to build one of the best programs in the country. I knew it was a great opportunity, and believed I could do it.”

How do you build a great soccer program? Young Coach Darling put in place many of the lessons she had learned in Roxbury. “RCS had a tradition of excellence. Our goal every year was to win sectionals and go as far as possible in states.” Longtime boys’ coach and athletic director Duane Ely set that tone.

And softball coach Jane Ware gave Laurie her coaching role model. “Coach Ware demands discipline, has high expectations, is passionate about the game, and gets the most from her players.” Laurie’s recipe for success: discipline, structure, thoroughness, high expectations, energy, the willingness to do all the work, to work twice as hard as everybody else.

In 1998, Laurie married Jason Gutheil, who is now her assistant coach as well as her husband. Jason is a great athlete in his own right, having been captain of Hartwick’s baseball team, where he set the college record with a 23-game hitting streak.

Improvement at St. Rose was steady. That first team, in ’97, won three games. By 2001 the program was gaining respect. By 2005 they started making the national tournament sweet 16. By 2007, they were on the cusp of breaking out. Winning the 2011 National Championship cements St. Rose as one of the premier women’s soccer programs in the country.

And it’s not all about soccer, Laurie says, ticking off her goals. “Develop strong women. Balance academics and athletics. Through academics, help women find exceptional professional opportunities and lead successful lives.” That’s the St. Rose way. “Our core values are work ethic, sacrifice, commitment, aspiring to be the best, with academics as important as athletics.”
A set of values the National Champion Coach of the Year learned right here in the Catskills.
billbirns@gmail.com