Westmont Magazine Women Coaching Women at Westmont
For the First Time the Women’s Basketball and Soccer Teams Have Women Head Coaches
Westmont is bucking a major trend: The number of women coaches on campus tripled this year, from one to three. Nationally, the number of women’s teams with female coaches has dropped to 42 percent; at Westmont, it has risen to 50 percent.
First-time head coaches Kirsten McKnight and Rebecca Mouw joined the faculty in the fall. When Kirsten played basketball for the University of Oregon, she participated in four NCAA Tournaments. She spent three years with the Ducks as an assistant coach; those teams won two PAC-10 titles and went to three NCAA Tournaments. As an assistant coach at UC Berkeley, Kirsten designed and implemented a new recruiting system that produced the sixth-ranked recruiting class in 2005. She worked with the Bears for three years before leaving the PAC-10 for Westmont.
Every year she played soccer at Wheaton College, Rebecca earned NCAA Division III All-American honors; she served as team captain as a junior and a senior. After graduating, she worked for two years as an assistant coach at Eastern University in Pennsylvania.Her duties included coaching and recruiting.
“My role as a coach is not just to make a better basketball player, but to be in a discipleship role,” Kirsten says. “I’ve walked their steps before them and can relate to what they are going through — and help them walk the right way.”
“Part of my goal is to become a better mentor,” Rebecca says. “I want to be someone players can come to with questions about soccer — and life. I’m learning how to be vulnerable as a coach and still be respected.
“Coaching this year has been a huge learning experience,” she adds. “Going to the national tournament in Kansas gave us a week and a half together, and the players saw me in a different role. I was in charge, and I made sure they did their homework and took tests. It was a time of bonding.” The Warriors made it all the way to the Final Four, upsetting two top-ranked teams.
Many players had never worked with a women coach before, and they were apprehensive. “I always had a father figure as a coach, and I wasn’t open to a woman,” Meghan O’Donnell ’06 says. “But Coach McKnight has been the biggest blessing. She has an uncanny ability to help you play your best and knows what is going on in your head. She relates to you on a level I’d never experienced.”
From the start, Kirsten pushed players out of their comfort zone. Thanks to her work ethic, she went from a walk-on player to a scholarship recipient and team captain at Oregon, and she expects the same kind of effort from her teams. “I know how much they can give,” she says. “I’ve been there myself.”
“Having Coach McKnight as a female role model was exciting,” says Ali Mooty ’09. “People associate successful coaches with men, and she defies that stereotype. She really knows the game.”
Megan Fate ’06 feared her senior season would be little more than a transitional year. Kirsten’s youth and inexperience concerned her. “But she was so confident, she took charge right away,” Megan says. “She proved she knows what she’s talking about.”
Kirsten and Rebecca want to develop faith in Christ as well as athletic ability. “It’s natural for players to find their identity in being athletes,” Kirsten says. “The challenge is to find their identity in what God says in his word. It’s who we are and not what we do on the court that matters. I encourage players to find motivation in God’s love rather than in pleasing people — God never changes.”
Rebecca will lead the soccer team on an outreach to Africa this summer — she’s participated in similar trips in the past. “These experiences are life-changing,” she says. “The players will learn about sharing their faith and gain a broader perspective on the world.”