“It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle”: head coach leads App State women’s soccer in 12th season


Hiatt Ellis

Women’s soccer head coach Sarah Strickland coaches junior forward Hayley Boyles ahead of their 2-1 win against the University of South Carolina Upstate. Strickland has led her squad to a 4-6-1 start to the 2021 season.

Alex Urquiza, Reporter

App State women’s soccer had a difficult 6-11-1 season in 2020, which culminated in an early Sun Belt Tournament exit. This year, they plan to bounce back with head coach Sarah Strickland leading the program. 

Strickland started her tenure at App State in 2010 when she was assigned as the head coach of the women’s soccer program. A decade later, she enters her 12th year in the program as she plans to take it toward a new direction.  

“She’s built an awesome culture here and has empowered us to help coach the team and improve things here,” assistant coach Mitch Williams said. “I think we’ve gotten off to a really good start our first two years together and we will continue to get better and better.”

Strickland graduated with a B.A. in psychology at George Mason University in 1998 and received an M.S. in the foundation of education at Troy University in 1999. She played three years at George Mason University, where she played a crucial role in their back-to-back NCAA appearances in 1996 and 1997, reaching the Sweet 16 in 1997. 

Strickland has over 20 years of experience in coaching, beginning her collegiate coaching career in 1998 serving as the assistant coach at Troy, where she became the interim head coach the following year. She continued her coaching career in Alabama, switching from Troy to Auburn, where she was the assistant coach for the men’s and women’s programs from 1999 to 2000. She was the director of coaching for Montgomery YMCA Capital City Streaks from 2000-04, girl’s director of coaching for the American Soccer Club from 2004-06 and the staff director for Birmingham United Soccer Association from 2006-07. She left Alabama in 2008 to become the assistant coach at Mississippi State. 

Strickland became the head coach for the women’s soccer club at App State in 2010, becoming the third head coach in the program’s history. She led the program into the Sun Belt Conference, transitioning from the Southern Conference in 2014. Strickland set the foundation for App State in the Sun Belt, going from 8-11 to 10-6-4 in their second season. The Mountaineers went undefeated at home in 2018, which was the first time the program didn’t lose at home since 2001.
“She’s been here a while. She knows a lot. She knows what we need to do to win. She prepares us well,” junior defender and team captain Olivia Cohen said. 

The first day of last season, they had to train in smaller groups of eight due to COVID-19 regulation. When all 31 players were allowed to train together on the first day this year, it was a breath of fresh air to start the new season. 

“A lot of the freshmen have been committed here for quite a while. We’ve been watching them play and waiting for that opportunity,” Strickland said. “We knew they would make an immediate impact. It wasn’t players we thought we were going to invest a lot of time in to develop.”

The Mountaineers’ new recruits have had an instant impact into Strickland’s system, filling the missing pieces in her forward lines. Against the University of South Carolina Upstate, App State had 17 shots with 13 coming from new players. 

“She’s been able to see the strengths that each of the freshmen have and how they compliment how we as a team play, and she’s been vital in putting them in the spots they’ll be most effective,” junior defender Liney Brantley said. 

App State women’s soccer team had a strong start to the season, winning its first two home games of the season against 3-0 UNC Asheville and 2-1 USC Upstate. The Mountaineers took a step back afterward, losing their next two home games to the College of Charleston and Wake Forest, where junior goalkeeper Kerry Eagleston pulled off 20 saves. They finished their non-conference schedule with a record of 4-2-1, preparing for the Sun Belt Conference in a winning ratio.

“12 years, each year is different. I’m expecting this one to be pretty memorable,” Strickland said. “It’s not a job. It’s a lifestyle.” 

App State women’s soccer’s next game is Oct. 7 at Troy.