The Skyhawks’ women’s soccer team, led by fourth-year head coach Phil McNamara, has had something of a penchant for victory over the last few seasons. Despite their rocky start, McNamara isn’t overly concerned
“Well, we’ve had a very difficult schedule, so it’s actually difficult to really get a good idea of where we’re at,” McNamara said of the team’s play so far. “We have a win-loss record that’s the same as what we had this time last year … I think we’ve played some very good teams very close.”
In the season opener, UTM was able to keep perennial powerhouse Oklahoma State from scoring until the 85th minute and kept 20th-ranked Denver off the board for 75 minutes during the Denver Invitational. McNamara said that the team’s slow start is in part due to their relative inexperience and lack of depth.
“We are not as talented nor as deep as we were last year, or experienced … I still have a lot of belief that we will be there, or there roundabouts in the top part of the league and that will give us an opportunity, hopefully, to attain the same level of success that we’ve had the last couple of seasons,” McNamara said.
McNamara’s team made the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons, losing to Memphis in 2011 and losing to Kentucky during overtime in 2012. In 2012 the team also claimed the program’s first ever OVC Tournament championship and posted the highest winning percentage in school history at .659. The Skyhawks look to return to the NCAA Tournament again this year, but McNamara recognizes that it will be difficult.
“It puts a bit of a target on your back, no question,” he said about playing in the Tournament two years in a row. “I think the league is better balanced this year, and some teams are off to a good start … right now we’re not the current favorites, I would say.”
McNamara has certainly focused on the importance of technique during his tenure with the Skyhawks, but that’s not all he teaches his players.
“Our lesson is to encourage the players to find the motivation and desire to reach that [higher] level of play,” he said. “Then on a daily basis, it’s ‘Can we be the best that we can be?’ and ‘Can you perform to 100 percent of your potential?’ and if you’re doing that individually, that gives us a foundation to move forward as a team.”
McNamara is more than qualified for his job; this is his 14th year as a head coach. Prior to becoming a coach McNamara played for several professional soccer teams, including spending four years with Cliftonville Football Club of the Northern Ireland Football League Premiership. After his playing career was over, he became a youth coach for the Irish Football Association before eventually accepting a head coaching position at Virginia Intermont.
“I’ve often said to friends and associates in the game that coaching is the next best thing to being out there on the field,” McNamara said. “You don’t have the same control—good players feel like they always have control of the game … It’s a different feeling, a different emotion. I miss playing dearly, there’s no question about that, but I had a lot of quality years with good teams … I enjoyed my time playing, [and I] wouldn’t change too much about my playing background.”
After leaving VI, McNamara joined Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn., where he would spend eight years as head coach taking the Eagles to the NCAA Division II Tournament in each of his last seven years. After his tenure there ended, he came to Martin to coach the Skyhawks.
“UT Martin just offered the next level, basically. With Carson-Newman being a Division II school, I came close to winning a national title there on two occasions, [but] they just didn’t have the resources to make that happen … I felt like my career path needed a positive change. I don’t regret for a minute coming to UTM,” McNamara said.