From Humble Beginnings

by Ken DeBolt

William Smith College Head Soccer Coach Aliceann Wilber P’12 and the Heron soccer
program reached 500 wins with a 1-0 victory over the University of Rochester in the
championship game of the Upstate Collegiate Cup played at the Yellowjackets’
Fauver Stadium on Sept. 20, 2015.

In the Sept. 4, 1980, Finger Lakes Times, under the headline of “Notes ‘n Quotes” a brief paragraph conveyed the news that Aliceann Wilber would be the first varsity head coach of soccer at William Smith. A humble announcement for a legend in the making.

Five games into that first season, the Herons handed Wilber her first coaching victory. Future Heron Hall of Honor inductee Kris Jensen ’82 scored the game winner that day. Her 68th-minute tally gave William Smith a 2-1 lead on visiting Hamilton and unleashed a flurry of Heron goals as the home side went on to win 7-1.

Fast forward 12,774 days—just nine days short of 35 years from the first win—and William Smith fans everywhere were on the edge of their seats in anticipation, rooting for the Herons to hand the five-time National Coach of the Year one more victory, the 500th of her illustrious career.

The opponent was no ordinary opponent. The match was no ordinary match.

William Smith was playing at the University of Rochester in the championship of the Upstate Collegiate Cup, playing the Yellowjackets for the 42nd time, more than any other William Smith opponent.

The tension in the stands that night at Fauver Stadium was palpable. Herons across the country and around the world shouted at computer screens pleading for a goal. Then, in the 77th minute, just as spectators began to allow for the possibility of a draw, Kara Shue ’17 sent a cross in from the right side that classmate Shay Callahan ’17 drilled into the back of the net.

First-year goalie Kaileen Murray ’19 (1 save) and a stingy Heron defense (2 shots allowed) made the solitary goal standup, shutting out Rochester for win No. 500.

The all-time wins leader in Division III women’s soccer, Wilber is one of only three people, and the first woman, to reach the 500-win plateau in NCAA women’s soccer history joining North Carolina’s Anson Dorrance and UConn’s Len Tsantiris. Congratulations poured in from around the soccer world, arriving via Twitter at nearly the same instant as the game’s final horn.

The current Herons huddled around the only leader the program has ever known and literally sang her praises. The song was “Happy 500 Wins,” to the tune of Happy Birthday. Clearly embarrassed, and in true Aliceann fashion, she responded, “It’s not about me.”

Aliceann Wilber P’12

Asked about how she was feeling after the milestone victory by a television reporter a short time later, Wilber repeated the line. “It’s not about a coach. It’s about all of the people together,” she said. “I had great support from all of the people that have played for us since 1980, a long time, so all the alums, all the players that came before today’s players, all of the assistant coaches, I’ve just been so fortunate. And I’ve had really good administrators to work for, so it’s just one step at a time, one game at a time and they add up.”

When pressed to reflect on her career, Wilber expressed her appreciation for the ever-expanding Heron family. “It’s been really special for me that I’ve worked in one place for 36 years. That allows us to have this family that keeps growing and evolving and they’re all my kids. Some of them are 50-years-old and they’re still my kids. I treasure that. The alums give us so much energy. That’s the thing that has kept me in coaching for so many years is at the end of the day I feel like, ‘Yeah maybe I did make a difference.’”

The 2015 season was indeed a special one. After losing its season opener (2-1 in double overtime at then No. 18 Wheaton (Ill.)), William Smith rattled off a 21-match unbeaten streak, which included 18 consecutive victories and 14 straight shutouts.

The Herons won their ninth consecutive Liberty League regular season title with a sterling 8-0-0 record that saw them outscore the league 33-0. William Smith breezed into the Liberty League Tournament Championship with a 5-0 semifinal win over Vassar.

In the title tilt, the Herons found themselves in the unusual position of trailing after conceding a second-minute goal. In the 66th minute, Liberty League Player of the Year Krista Longo ’16 evened the match and MacKenzie Smith ’17 secured the program’s ninth consecutive tournament crown with her game-winning goal 1:50 into overtime.

No. 3 William Smith flexed its offensive muscle early in the NCAA tournament, dispatching Penn State Berks 3-0 and Roger Williams 5-1. In the third round, the Herons needed Shue’s 93rd minute strike to slip past No. 11 Brandeis 1-0.

The quarterfinal against No. 6 Williams shaped up much like the Liberty League Championship. The Ephs took an early lead, but William Smith forced overtime thanks to Callahan’s header in the 86th minute. Although the Herons dominated possession, outshooting Williams 7-2 in extra time, the score remained tied through 110 minutes. Officially a draw, the Ephs advanced to the semifinals 3-0 on penalty kicks and went on to win the national championship.

Wilber was voted the 2015 NSCAA East Region Coach of the Year, the seventh time she has earn the award. For the fourth time in her career, Wilber had two players earn first team All-America honors, Longo and Zoe Jackson Gibson ’15. Jackson Gibson also picked up her second straight Liberty League Defensive Player of the Year Award. The Herons placed eight players on the all-conference teams and four on the NSCAA All-East teams.

Wilber will begin the 2016 season with a record of 515-129-57.


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