A lifetime love of soccer inspires Kat Conner By Mary-Love Bigony, University Marketing
A decade after coming to Texas State to build a women’s soccer team, Coach Kat Conner has racked up a roster of accomplishments: four Southland Conference Tournament championships, three trips to the NCAA Women’s Soccer tournament, and more than a dozen players who have won Southland Conference honors.
In November 2008, following an undefeated conference record, a conference tournament championship, a trip to the NCAA tournament and seven players named to the All-SLC team, Connor added a new honor to her growing list: Southland Conference Coach of the Year.
Conner says that while the team worked extremely hard, the outstanding season might have surprised some people. “We’re still a very young team,” she says, “and I don’t think anyone expected us to be that good this quickly.”
Introduction to Soccer Conner’s love for soccer started when she was a 5-year-old in Irving, Texas. “My sisters played softball and my dad coached them,” she says. “I was the baby of the family and I didn’t want to do what my sisters did. So I played soccer, which was still a pretty young sport at the time and my dad didn’t know anything about it.”
She loved the game, and stayed with it. “It’s a great sport,” says the barely 5-foot-tall coach. “It’s one of those sports that doesn’t require height or girth. Anyone can play.”
Conner graduated from high school in Irving and received a scholarship to Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. “They played NAIA and we played for two national championships,” she says. But changes in the program prompted her to look elsewhere. “At that time I knew I wanted to either play professionally or coach,” she says, “so I wanted to be on a highly competitive team.”
Conner transferred to Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. Pacific Lutheran’s soccer team had beaten Hardin-Simmons in the Final Four.
A Fortuitous Meeting “I was lucky to get on their team,” Conner says of Pacific Lutheran, “and even luckier to meet Dr. Colleen Hacker.”
Hacker, who was the women’s soccer coach when Conner joined the team, is currently assistant dean of physical education at Pacific Lutheran. She also serves as the sport psychology consultant for the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team and is a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Performance Enhancement Team.
“She was our coach,” Conner says, “and she was also my biomechanics teacher and my psychology teacher. I learned a lot from her.”
When Conner graduated from Pacific Lutheran with a degree in physical education, she made a decision that prepared her to become the award-winning coach she is today. She decided to stay on at Pacific Lutheran as Coach Hacker’s assistant, and to do it as an unpaid volunteer.
To be able to work as a volunteer assistant coach, Conner kept up a grueling schedule. “I worked at Costco doing stocking from about 4 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.,” she says. “Then I’d work at Parks and Recreation from 10:30 a.m. until about 3 p.m. Then I’d go to Pacific Lutheran and do coaching and learn from Colleen Hacker from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Then I’d go home and go to bed and get up the next morning and do it again.”
Conner kept up this schedule for two years.
Her Luck Continues In 1993 Conner received a call from G. Guerrieri, who had been her coach at Hardin-Simmons. Guerrieri had been hired by Texas A&M University to upgrade the school’s women’s soccer program.
“He called me up and said ‘How’d you like to be paid for coaching?’” she says. “I was lucky that he remembered me.”
Conner stayed on as an assistant coach under Guerrieri from 1993 to 1998. “By then I was ready to go out on my own,” she says. “I started having my own ideas and wanted to see how they would work, how they would play out.”
Texas State, then called Southwest Texas, was starting a new women’s soccer program and Conner interviewed for the head coach position. “I came here, got the job and I’ve been here ever since,” she says. “I’ve loved it ever since.”
A Winning Tradition Conner led her first Texas State team in 1999 to a Southland Conference tournament title, and she has built on that initial success.
“Coach Conner is a great coach,” says Britney Curry, one of the top players in the 2008 season who was named to the All Conference first team. “Through core values, a powerful purpose and high standards, both athletically and academically, she offers us the opportunity to be successful on and off the soccer field. She has a proud commitment to the soccer program she has built here, and I am certainly proud to be part of it.”
Conner says soccer is a lot like life. “You have to prepare yourself for everything you can,” she says. “And then you have to go out and make a choice. But something’s going to happen, either good or bad. And then you’re going to have to choose again. And you always have to come back and reevaluate. What I like about soccer is that it’s all tactical decision making. What pass do I make? Do I dribble or do I shoot? It’s all about them trying to make the right choice. And if you make a mistake, learn from it and try to do better the next time.”
Gearing up for the 2009 Season Conner plans to shift her strategy a little for the upcoming season. “Last year we were probably being a little cautious,” she says, “trying to just keep the ball and not make very many mistakes. And now we’re trying to teach them all the different decisions they can be making so that they can be a little more aggressive in their decision-making.”
Britney Curry is returning to the team and is eagerly looking forward to the season. “Our upcoming season has a lot in store,” she says. “We have to defend our title and we have a new goal, which is to win that NCAA first round match and make Texas State and Southland Conference history. Coach Conner believes in us and reminds us every day that we're right on track. I can't wait for all of our hard work this spring to pay off when it comes time to play in the fall.”