Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
but there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.
It has been 10 years now for ACU soccer with Casey at the pitch. (“Soccer field” doesn’t ring quite as poetic.)
He is the only coach this program has ever known. And how he arrived at his post is probably befitting of a sport that generally demands a series of moves, one setting up the next and often not necessarily toward the goal.
Wilson was a three-sport star at his high school in Anaheim Hills, California, playing baseball, football and soccer. After two seasons as an All-America placekicker and outfielder in junior college, he moved on to Central Michigan University where he led the Mid-American Conference and set a school record in extra points. With his football eligibility expiring, Wilson began looking for a place to finish his collegiate career playing baseball. A family friend had attended ACU and recommended he talk to the Wildcats’ head coach, Britt Bonneau. In just his second year at the helm, Bonneau liked what he saw from Wilson’s junior college days so he offered him a spot in a lineup loaded with Caseys.
The player-to-be-named-later spent two seasons as an outfielder and designated hitter, batting .300 in 1998 and making an impression on his head coach with qualities that would come to define his own coaching style.
“The attention to detail with this guy was amazing,” Bonneau recollects. “He was a student of the game. Always prepared, always working hard to get better and helping others get better.”
Wilson graduated from ACU in 1999 then went back home to California and for the next five years got a master’s degree in business and worked with his parents running juice and smoothie shops.
If you’re thinking his resume doesn’t sound very “soccery” so far, hang on. He came back to ACU in 2004 to be a volunteer softball assistant and to help with special teams under head football coach Gary Gaines. About that time, ACU was kicking around the idea of starting a women’s soccer program. Wilson’s high school coach, Ali Khosroshahin, encouraged him to interview. He got the job.
“He definitely had an understanding of the game despite not having coached it,” said Jared Mosley (’00), ACU’s director of athletics at the time, “and an eye for talent in softball that translated to soccer. I felt his temperament and love for ACU would lend itself well to starting a program and providing some stability.”
“We were really strong up the middle,” Wilson recalls, “with Jordan Reese, Lyndsey Womack and Courtney Wilson (no relation). We found three very competitive athletes in those three and began to build around them.”
It didn’t take long. In fact, ACU increased its season win total in each of the next four years, winning the Lone Star Conference title in 2010 and advancing to the NCAA tournament the following year.
That 2011 season was magical. Led by Andrea Carpenter’s 16 goals, the Wildcats won 20 games, went unbeaten in conference play and took down both archrival Midwestern State and Dallas Baptist to reach the national quarterfinals. At a neutral site in Southern California, ACU took on Chico State. In a game played through several inches of slop from heavy rains – “The ball would either float on top of the water,” Wilson remembers with no joy, “or get stuck in the mud” – ACU fell, 1-0, to finish three wins shy of a national championship.
Moving up a division in collegiate athletics can be as difficult as starting a program from scratch. Wilson has made both look easier than they are. In all five seasons at the Division I level, the Wildcats have had a winning record in conference play (33-18-5 combined). In fact they would have qualified for the Southland tournament in each of the four seasons of the transition had they been eligible.
In this his 11th season, Wilson is now 118-81-17, and his teams have won two-thirds of their conference games. As good as they’ve been on the pitch, they’ve been even better – in fact, the best – in the classroom. Last year, of the 333 Division I women’s soccer programs, none had a higher team GPA (3.76) than ACU.
In an increasingly distracted world that seems to favor the loudmouth, Wilson keeps quiet. And when he does speak, the conversation is rarely self-centered. Ask about his strengths? He’ll speak of the strengths of those around him.
“All the assistants I’ve had since we started the program,” Wilson says, “have had quality soccer minds. I think that’s been the biggest thing going for me. If I would’ve ever tried to do this all by myself with an ego, then I wouldn’t have made it very far.”
This year, his team made it as far as the semifinals of the Southland Conference tournament in its first appearance. After upsetting No. 3 seed McNeese State in a penalty kick shootout in the opening round, the Wildcats lost a shootout in the next match Friday to No. 2 seed Stephen F. Austin. A solid start to a new era, just as it was when Wilson began the program a decade ago.
“One of the things that has helped me over the years,” he contends, “has been being over-prepared with making sure we were never just good enough. There has never been a year when I didn’t think we couldn’t compete for a championship.”
The Wildcats keep swinging for the fences, led by Mighty Casey: ACU’s home run hire.