In a time where countless other colleges and universities nationwide have dropped athletics programs amid COVID-19-associated budget cuts and other reasons, Pasco-Hernando State College (PHSC) is making plays to boost its sports offerings.
The institution added women’s soccer to its athletics roster beginning with the 2021 fall season in August. Home games will be played on the outdoor fields of the Wiregrass Sports Campus of Pasco County, 3021 Sports Coast Way, in Wesley Chapel.
The school’s athletics department made the announcement official in a March 19 press release.
The PHSC women’s soccer program will be a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) and Florida College System Activities Association (FCSAA). It joins PHSC’s other intercollegiate athletics programs, known as the Bobcats, that include women’s volleyball, cross- country and softball, and men’s basketball and baseball.
Women’s soccer marks the local college’s first new sport since 2005 — when it brought on women’s cross-country, under head coach Jackie Wachtel.
Leading the upstart team is former Tampa Bay Rowdies head coach Stuart Campbell, a familiar face and widely known figure in the soccer ranks. He’s also a longtime Wesley Chapel resident.
The English-born Campbell played professional soccer from 1996 to 2013, before serving as the assistant coach for the Rowdies from 2014 to 2015 and head coach from 2015 to 2018.
As a midfielder, Campbell played for several teams in England, including Leicester City of the Premier League, the top division of England’s football league system. He finished his playing career with the Rowdies in 2012-2013. He also was a member of the Scotland U21 national team in 1998-1999.
The decision to launch women’s soccer made sense for myriad reasons, including boosting enrollment, PHSC athletics director Steve Winterling explained to The Laker/Lutz News, in a recent interview.
The undertaking, which was three-plus years in the making, came with the blessing of PHSC senior vice president Dr. Bob Bade, who Winterling noted has a “very athletic-inclined” outlook.
Aside from being another avenue “to promote our college even more,” Winterling said, women’s soccer also provides more athletic participation opportunities for PHSC’s overwhelming female population, which represents about 61% of the student body.
Moreover, Winterling highlighted the popularity and surplus of high-level girls youth and high school soccer throughout Pasco County and the Tampa Bay region, plus the opportunity to house the program on the county’s east side in Wesley Chapel. (All of PHSC’s other sports programs are based on the West Campus in New Port Richey.)
“We’re hoping to keep young women in our area that want to continue playing soccer because there’s not a whole lot of opportunities for them,” the athletics director said. “There’s a lot of talent out there and I think this is going to be exciting to keep some people close to home, where they can play a couple more years and maybe go on and play at a four-year (school), and that’s always the plan of our program here.”
Having a recognizable name in Campbell to lead the way seems to be another bonus to generate buzz for the program and school from the onset.
“Everybody knows the Rowdies,” Winterling said, “so if that doesn’t get you excited about soccer and somebody wanting to come and play at our college, I don’t know what would.”
Remaining logistical tasks for the program, the athletics director said, include finalizing a first-year budget, schedule, and equipment and uniform needs, as well as familiarizing Campbell with NJCAA rules, regulations and compliance protocols.
The team will offer 11 tuition-and-books scholarships to start, with another dozen or so walk-on players. Campbell will host a tryout for interested athletes on April 11 at 5 p.m., at the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus.
As for style of play, players and fans can expect lots of action and high-scoring affairs, under Campbell’s tutelage.
The coach quipped, “I’d rather win a game 4-3 than 1-0, because, at the end of the day, the product you put out on the soccer field, you’re there to entertain, and if you give the players that freedom, that license to go express themselves, I think they’ll be really, really productive.”
He added: “I want to excite the players and excite the fans to come to watch. We like to play a possession-based game that makes it exciting for the fans. In my previous role as a head coach (with the Rowdies), we always scored lots of goals.”
A place to play, develop
PHSC’s women’s soccer program — like the school’s other sports — creates another pathway for athletes who want to play college ball, but might need more seasoning and maturity before advancing to the NCAA Division I or Division II ranks, such as the University of South Florida, University of Tampa or Saint Leo University, to name a few.
Campbell cited “alarming” dropout and transfer rates among college soccer players in their freshman and sophomore years at larger four-year schools for various reasons, such as unhappiness with lack of playing time and homesickness.
Campbell explained, “They leave home at a relatively young age. They leave for college at 18 (years old), they’re in a different environment for the first time, they’re not playing and it’s a relatively short (soccer) season…so if we can give them that platform for them to grow and develop, and then if they can go onto another school, we’ve done our job, not just sending them off as soccer players, but more rounded young women.”
Winterling himself started the PHSC baseball program back in 1991 and also coached at Florida College and Florida State University.
He likewise emphasized the impact of junior college athletics serving as a launch pad for underclassmen athletes to seamlessly advance to more prominent four-year programs.
The junior college level, he said, helps younger student-athletes who may otherwise “get lost” by larger classroom sizes and increased demands of a Division I or Division II program.
“I have not heard or talked to a student-athlete that has ever regretted going two years at the state college here and moving on,” he said.
“We want our student-athletes to get their AA (Associate of Arts) degree, enjoy two years of sports, if that’s what they so choose, and then if they want to continue and go on, we work hard to find them another place to play to finish out their bachelor’s degree.”
Women’s soccer might not be the only new sport coming to PHSC, meanwhile.
Part of the athletic department’s future plans include adding men’s cross-country and men’s soccer in coming years, Winterling said. “We want to add more sports down the road.”
Published March 31, 2021