Whitehill A Leader, On And Off Field
Former Wildcats standout to speak in Boston at ETSLS this weekend

Photo courtesy Boston Breakers/Mike Gridley












W-League Feature

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Having made more than 100 appearances for the U.S. Women’s National Team during her career, the Boston Breakers’ Cat Whitehill was always prepared for a challenge.

The latest of her career came at the end of last season, when she was appointed player-coach of the Breakers after the departure of Lisa Cole with two weeks to play in the season. As you might expect, Whitehill stepped up to the mark and helped the side claim seven points from its final four games as the players responded to her leadership.

“The girls were awesome,” Whitehill said by phone recently. “They were very accommodating, and that could have been a tough situation, but fortunately the team made it an easy transition and I’m hoping it will be the same way this year.”

Whitehill will be an assistant coach, as well as a player, for the Breakers this season as Tom Durkin, formerly coach of the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the PDL’s IMG Academy Bradenton, takes the reins in Boston. After getting her feet wet last season, Whitehill is looking forward to developing as a coach under Durkin as she continues to help develop the Breakers young players on the field.

“I’m honestly really excited to be learning from him,” Whitehill said of Durkin. “Yesterday I learned more from him, just talking to him, than I had in a long time. He just knows so much about the game, I think it’s going to be an easy transition.”

Whitehill is also hoping to help develop young minds this Saturday as a keynote speaker at the Empowerment Through Sports Leadership Series event in Boston. As a longtime friend and former USWNT teammate of ETSLS founder Angela Hucles, Whitehill was excited when she was asked to speak at the event, which is set to be held at Simmons College.

“Angela Hucles is a good friend of mine,” Whitehill said. “We’re close in age, so that kinda helped, but she was involved the first year I was here. We kind of hung out while she was up here and then sadly she moved away, but she’s just one of those people that I don’t think there’s a soul in this world dislikes. She’s just such a genuinely nice person and she emailed me and said ‘would you be interested?’, and it was nice that since I’m located here it’s an easy drive over to Fenway. I’m grateful to be a part of it, grateful that she asked, and just glad to help her out whenever because she’s doing such amazing things through all of this.”

In addition to the time they spent competing together for the USWNT, Hucles and Whitehill also have another common bond, that of Charlie Naimo. While Hucles was Naimo’s assistant as the LA Blues claimed the 2013 W-League Championship, Whitehill played for Naimo on one of the greatest teams in the W-League’s history. With the United States’ Heather O’Reilly and Tobin Heath, England’s Rachel Yankey and Canada’s Karina LeBlanc among the many well-known players in the squad, the Wildcats lost just once on their way to a championship in 2005.

“We had some quality players and a lot of them are still playing with the national team, like Heather O’Reilly,” Whitehead said. “The funniest thing is as amazing as the players were, and it was so fun to practice with them day-in and day-out, I just remember how great the camaraderie was. I made some amazing friends when I was up there, and we had a great time. It was one of those teams where we all just got along. It wasn’t too cliquey - we were truly a team - and we played like it. Charlie Naimo did a great job of teaching us all about possession, he loved possession, and I think a lot of it helped that we were such a close-knit team.

“I still hold that team very dear to my heart because in 2005 with the national team we weren’t doing a whole lot, so we didn’t know what to do when it came to training, and fortunately Charlie Naimo called from the Wildcats, and it was just a great experience. I’m very appreciative of that summer.”

Whitehill added that she appreciated what the W-League has meant to women’s soccer in North America, with a number of the rookies she will welcome to the Breakers this spring among the latest to move into the professional ranks from the league. Former Laval Comets standout Nkem Ezurike was the Breakers’ top draft pick, while the Long Island Rough Riders’ Kim DeCesare was also selected, as were W-League alumni Mollie Pathman and Jami Kranich.

“The one great thing about the W-League is that it’s been around this whole time and it’s really helped everyone find a place to play,” Whitehead said. “Anytime you can get games, it’s very important. You can practice all you want, too, but games are where you really develop who you are as a player. I’m so grateful that it’s still around and allows younger players, especially college-age players, to keep playing in the summer.”

The W-League has also proven important for players who have continued to play since leaving college, with Whitehill adding that the Breakers continue to monitor players in the league in the hopes of finding someone who can help the side. One such player was former Atlanta Silverback Libby Guess, who made the Breakers’ roster a season ago after playing in the W-League for three seasons.

“We always keep our eye out,” Whitehead said. “We want to know how they’re training, who they’re training with, how many games they’re getting in. As a coach you just never stop looking at what’s out there. … It’s players like that, even, that aren’t players in college that you still keep a look out for to see if they’ve developed later in life, because a lot of players tend to do that.”

While the W-League affords players the opportunity to train and compete as they push toward the top flight of soccer in the United States, Saturday’s ETSLS event offers the chance for young players to learn and grow from Whitehill and fellow W-League alum India Trotter. Whitehill hopes her message is one that will be well received, and will help those in attendance as they move towards college.

“I want them to know that the responsibility is a good thing,” Whitehill said. “I think some people shy away from that and they’re afraid to show they’re confident. It’s not cockiness, it’s confidence, and be proud of who they are in whatever they choose to do. I think that’s so key, especially with women there are so many insecurities that go along with deciding what you want to be and how you want to be that person.

“I love what Beyonce did recently, challenging women to really be great role models and showing that as much as we are viewed as equals by a lot of people, we still aren’t in a lot of workplaces. I think that’s something that needs to get started from our generation, and telling these young women that we can’t accept anything less than equality and anything less than who you are and what you deserve.”

As the NWSL grows and matures, Whitehill also hopes there will be opportunities for leadership positions within the league’s clubs, as has happened in recent years in Major League Soccer. With the examples of Jason Kreis, Mike Petke and Ben Olsen leading the way, former players are now getting their chances in the MLS coaching ranks, something Whitehill hopes will be available to her peers in the NWSL in the future.

“I don’t know if that’s where I’m going to be – I’ll never rule it out because I love coaching, it’s a lot of fun for me – but I hope that more players get involved,” she said. “I love seeing Cindy Parlow-Cone being part of an NWSL team; I wish that more women would get involved just because we now have a lot of experience internationally, we now have that experience collegiately that a lot of coaches when I was growing up didn’t have.

“Thankfully, because of Title IX, we’re able to learn as a player what you can bring as a coach, so I would love to see more players getting involved as coaches because I think the influence out there is undeniable. It’s amazing how much you listen to a coach that’s been there and done that, and I know coaches like Ben Olsen have respect from their peers because he’s been in the trenches, he knows how it feels, and he can help coach them through it. I just think that’s really neat, and I hope women can do the same thing.”