Hartsville, S.C. - In only his first season as head coach, Paul Leese has established a formidable reputation as the leader of the Coker College men’s soccer team. Inheriting a team that finished the 2008 season 7-12-1 and 9th in conference, Leese delivered the first winning season in over 20 years along with the first ever Conference Carolinas Championship in Coker men’s soccer history.
“It was a great achievement!” said Leese. “I was very pleased with how all the players responded to my expectations as a new coach. We set our standards high and were able to succeed due to the hard work that every player gave from the first day of pre-season until the last kick of the conference championship.”
Many more records were broken in Leese’s inaugural season, including best start in program history (7-0); highest Regional ranking (#3 in Southeast); first ever National ranking (#21 in Nation); most wins in a season (12); first ever Conference Tournament win (2-1 over nationally ranked #13 Anderson University); and first ever conference semifinal win (1-0 over nationally ranked #1 Lees McRae). Leese was then able to cap off the season with Coker’s first ever conference championship; defeating Belmont Abbey at home in a thrilling 6-5 shootout win.
A major part of Coker’s success is derived from Leese’s soccer philosophy. “Soccer is truly a team sport that relies on the actions and decisions of the players during the game,” explains Leese. “As coach, I cannot call timeouts or dictate intricate plays – I can only teach players how to read the game and make their own decisions. All our work is done on the training pitch – the game is where the boys now have the freedom to express themselves.”
Leese’s players agree. “This is the strongest team I have been a part of here at Coker,” said senior captain Mike Crook. “Coach values every player’s opinion and helped us focus on our team goals this season. It was exciting to watch how we improved and grew together with each game.”
Leese has always impressed those who have worked with him. As Assistant Coach at Coastal Carolina University from 2006-09, Leese was in charge of all phases of the men’s soccer program. Coastal Carolina Head Coach and Region III ODP Director Shaun Docking recruited Leese as both a player and coach. “Paul was a leader as a player and the transition to becoming a coach has been a very natural one,” says Docking. “He understands the demands of student-athlete’s in college and does a tremendous job of developing not only good soccer players but also mature young men.”
Prior to Coastal Carolina Leese served as an assistant coach at Furman University where he coached U.S. National Team member and Fulham F.C. player Clint Dempsey, along with current MLS players Jon Leathers of the Kansas City Wizards and Shea Salinas of the San Jose Earthquakes.
Coach Leese and the Cobras will now prepare to defend their Conference Carolinas title. Leese has some big shoes to fill in the process, with the loss of eight seniors; including All-Conference and All-Tournament selection Marc Mergena, All-Tournament selection Ben Beetch and Tournament MVP AJ Sweeney.