By Lesa Moore
With three national tournaments, one Final Eight, and two Sweet Sixteens in the last three years, the ladies from the University of Mobile women’s soccer team are making their mark. Add an overall count of 50 All-Americans and it is clear that these years of success are no accident. It’s all part of the plan.
When Brian Person’s brother, Joel ’02, encouraged Brian to spend his last year of eligibility playing soccer with him at the University of Mobile, it was definitely a change of scenery – and temperature – from his home in Alaska. It did not take long, however, for him to fit right in.
He met, and later married, Kasie Balderas Person ’01, earned his Master of Business Administration at UMobile in 2002 and spent several years as a graduate assistant and then assistant coach for the men’s soccer team. He became the assistant coach for the women’s soccer team in 2004 and took over as head coach in 2007.
“It is such a blessing to coach here,” said Brian. “I came here because of the incredible opportunities – being at a Christian school that is competitive and supportive of athletics. I fell in love with it.”
He began his collegiate playing career at Central Washington University and eventually finished at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks where he graduated in 1998 with a Bachelor of Science in exercise science. He is an active member of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and has spent 12 summers working with the regional Olympic Developmental Program. He was named Southern States Athletic Conference Women’s Soccer Coach of the Year in 2011.
Coach Person leads his team by emphasizing a specific plan for the way they practice and compete, the way they respond to circumstances and the way they interact with others.
“All I have to give is all I have” – that’s their team motto. And that is the sacrificial commitment that is expected from these young women – and lived out by their coaches and mentors.
“We operate with Christ as the center,” Brian explained. “Our plan is first and foremost to show Christ’s love and, from that perspective, this environment is very unique. We provide great resources to become competitive and attract students with good character. Soccer is a great sport, but it is also much more than that. We work really hard toward our goals and strive to do everything with excellence.”
Katherine Compton, a freshman from Pell City, AL, said, “Person is the best coach that I have ever
“His love, knowledge and enthusiasm for the game makes the atmosphere one of intensity and excitement and hard work. He is the perfect balance of fun and serious... But by far, the best thing is knowing that he cares even more about our spiritual growth than anything else,” she said.
Olivia Maddox is a senior from Auburn, AL.
“I know that he (Coach Brian) genuinely has our best interest in mind...I can see his relationship with Jesus on and off the field,” said Olivia. “He implements prayer before and after every session, but it’s how he acts during the session that speaks to us more. How he responds to failure is Christ-like. He represents his Lord very well and gives the credit where it’s due.”
The intense mental, emotional and physical challenges that college-level athletes face require strict focus and daily commitment.
“Fortuntely, when you hold high expectations of work ethic as a coach, the players begin to hold themselves to the standard as well,” Brian explained.
Soccer practice alone requires three to five hours every day and more on game days. Players are expected to meet physical standards in the weight room, make required two mile run times, and pass an aerobic and anaerobic mixed fitness test. Team members spend much of their summers preparing to pass required individual standards on fitness tests at the beginning of preseason as well.
“They have high demands on their time,” Brian continued. “Because of this we try to allot enough free time to accomplish good grades and invest in friendships. The balance between that and preparing enough for soccer is a challenge. Everyone must be personally responsible, but also responsible for those around them as a team.”
While Kasie Person may be cheering on the team from the sidelines during the games, her role is much more hands-on off the field. Brian credits Kasie with a major impact on the team’s success.
“Kasie is an important part of the team. Having a female presence really makes the girls and their parents more comfortable being away from home,” he said.
“I see my role as the mom of the team,” said Kasie. “My first goal is to support Brian, but I am also there to mentor these girls. I see this as a opportunity to influence them in this part of their life and to share the love of Christ with them while they are at college trying to figure out their purpose in life and God’s plan for them.”
From a practical standpoint, Kasie helps the team, and Brian, with administrative functions. Players stay at the Persons’ home from time to time, especially during preseason or holidays. Since they miss the meal service times in the cafeteria on home games, Kasie provides meals for them after each game. This is ironic since Kasie first met Brian when she and a friend were cooking meals for the soccer players back when she was a student at UMobile.
“I think I was destined to cook for soccer teams,” she laughed. “Kasie is our ‘Mom away from Mom’,” recalled Olivia. “She has been an incredible example to me personally. Even though she has two young children of her own, she still makes time to invest in our lives. She is always serving us, whether it is cooking dinner for us so that after the game we come to an awesome homecooked meal, sending us encouraging text messages or asking us how things are going. She has always been there the last four years.”
“Kasie is an amazing example of obedience to the Lord, and is one of those people who I know I could go to for absolutely anything,” said Katherine. “She is always ready to give sound, Biblical advice in any situation, she prays over us, leads us in Bible study every week, and even opened her house to us when the hurricane came through a few months ago.”
“In our weekly Bible studies, I want to teach the girls what it looks like to have daily time in the Word and hearing from the Lord,” explained Kasie. “When they leave here, I want them to be equipped with what it takes to meet with the Lord daily.
“It is hard for parents to let girls go far from home. We are blessed to have these girls come here and want to be good stewards of the people He has entrusted to us. It is a big responsibility, and we are honored to have them here.”
When the Lady Rams soccer team is not on the field practicing on their top-class Bermuda-grass fields, you may find them in their locker room preparing for the game by going over videos on the 40-inch flat-screen TV. The women’s soccer coaching staff takes great pride in their program and the facilities in which they work. The players even enjoy a state-of-the-art surround sound which encourages dance parties during pre-game preparation and post-game victory celebrations.
“My favorite thing about playing soccer at UMobile, apart from just being able to play the sport, is game days!” exclaimed Olivia. “Campus Life does an amazing job of letting people on campus know when the games are and getting them there. Our fans are awesome! They come with horns and bells, all painted up. The support here is unbelievable, especially for women’s soccer.”
Brian likens a team to being part of a family, and emphasizing this to his team is a priority from day one. Whether it is working together on the field, serving together at various schools, homeless shelters or other mission opportunities, or enjoying campus life events together – they remain a team.
“We solve problems like a family,” said Olivia. “We live together like a family, we work together like a family, we eat together like a family. We have our moments, but what family doesn’t? The coaching staff has always reminded us that we are part of the bigger family – the University of Mobile family. We don’t just represent ourselves, but the entire school. That has been emphasized since my freshman year.”
“I came in as a scared little freshman, met the most incredible people I’ve ever known, and feel like I have grown more than I could’ve imagined,” said Katherine. “The seniors on this team have poured into me and taught me what it means tobe a leader on and off the field, what it means to work hard and most importantly what it means to seek the Lord.
“Whether it was offering advice and encouragement on the field, letting me cry on a shoulder when I got really stressed, or getting me involved with a local church, they (seniors) have become like a group of big sisters to me.”
The women’s soccer players come from all over the southeast, and as far away as places such as California, Arizona, Washington and Canada. Brian says although it is always a little different with new girls coming in each year, the standards typically remain the same.
“My favorite thing about coaching is the day-to-day interaction with the players,” said Brian. “You may not see it every day, but looking back over the last four years, I can see how they each have grown as a player and a person. It is gratifying to know you may have had a part in that.”
The plan that the coaching staff has implemented in the women’s soccer program include lessons that continue to make them successful on the field and provide a practical guide for their careers and personal life in the future.
“I’m super thankful for the coaching staff and their influences that they have had in my life,” said Olivia. “I’m thankful for the student body, Campus Life and their unwavering support the past four years. But more than anything, I am thankful to God because out of all the places in the U.S. He could have chosen to send me, He allowed me to come to Mobile. I know it was not by accident. The Lord has been some kinda good to me.”