Women’s soccer coach reaches milestone

Shelby Keck Chico State women's coach Kim Sutton directs the players to move the ball down field during practice at the soccer stadium Wednesday.

Shelby Keck
Chico State women’s coach Kim Sutton directs the players to move the ball down field during practice at the soccer stadium Wednesday.

Chico State women’s soccer head coach Kim Sutton doesn’t like to keep track of numbers. Fortunately, others have done that for her.

Sutton recently won her 250th game as a head coach in a successful career that spans more than 20 years. She’s spent the last 13 at Chico State.

Sutton said the milestone is just another number to her. But the number reveals the longevity of Sutton’s college coaching career.

Junior midfielder Megan Tabler attributes this longevity to the coach’s dedication and positive attitude.

“Coach Sutton is very passionate about what she does, both on and off the field,” Tabler said. “She is the reason why we have such good chemistry as a team.”

Sutton’s coaching career began a few years after her junior year of college at Sonoma State, when she suffered a knee injury that kept her from playing soccer or basketball. Realizing she could no longer play, Sutton stayed close to the game and landed a job coaching a junior varsity high school team.

Sutton took her first head coaching job at Santa Rosa Junior College in 1990. In the four years she was there, Sutton guided the Bear Cubs to three conference titles and two state championship appearances. Being a young coach, she followed in her college coach’s footsteps.

“I did what my coach did,” Sutton said. “I was very hard and demanding. At that time it worked. But I learned there was a lot more to it.”

Sutton moved from Santa Rosa to lead Humboldt State in its first year as a program in 1995. She experienced tremendous success again, taking the Lumberjacks to two Pacific West Conference titles and a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances.

Along the way, Sutton battled the challenges of being a head coach. Motivating players and managing an entire team of college athletes was too much to handle alone.

“I realized it can’t just be me,” she said. “You need help as a coach. It’s a big part of keeping things successful and moving things in the right direction.”

Sutton developed a strong staff and group of team leaders to help her, a support group that has been in existence since her arrival at Chico State in 2001.

She stepped in and took the Wildcats to six North Division crowns in the California Collegiate Athletic Association, six trips to the CCAA Championship Tournament and five NCAA Championship Tournament appearances. On top of that, she found a place to call home.

In 2010, Sutton had one of the best coaching seasons in her career. The Wildcats won the NCAA West Regional and advanced to the Final Four for a chance to play in the national championship.

Even though Sutton is not one to boast about her personal accolades, she points to the Final Four as her defining moment.

Along the way to the Final Four, Sutton kept telling her athletes that they were good enough to play with the best.

“At first they didn’t believe they could get there,” Sutton said. “But watching them realize and believe that they could get there, that was special.”

Former player Molly Downtain, a 2012 Chico State graduate and current volunteer assistant coach at the University of Illinois, scored on a penalty kick to beat Cal State Stanislaus in the first round of that historic run. She said Sutton brought out the leadership in her players and expected the best from each of them.

Sutton was so dedicated to the team that she would send encouraging text messages to the players, said Megan Tabler, who was a freshman on the Final Four team. That dedication paid off when Downtain’s kick gave way to the huge win.

“Pure happiness,” Downtain said. “Looking over at her after it ended and seeing the tears in her eyes. She had pure happiness in our success.”

Sutton has never been concerned about numbers, she said. She’s all about connecting with her players. The team is like a family and the best part about her job is building relationships with her athletes.

“I want the team to succeed and walk away having the time and experience of their lives,” Sutton said. “I want them to grow and experience diversity. My success comes from watching them be successful.”

 

Nicholas Woodard can be reached at [email protected] or @nwoodard25 on Twitter.