Napa Valley Register


Simmons hopes to empower NVC women's soccer players, not just coach them

ANDY WILCOX   Mar 31, 2017

As it's soccer coach, Randi Simmons, plans to not only revive the Napa Valley College women's soccer program but make it a source of pride on campus.

As it's soccer coach, Randi Simmons, plans to not only revive the Napa Valley College women's soccer program but make it a source of pride on campus.

Randi Simmons is proud to wear the NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Championship ring she received after helping coach Washington University in St. Louis to its first-ever national title last fall.

It’s huge and gleams on the outside, representing the hard work that culminated in the eighth-ranked Bears beating No. 6 Messiah College in a penalty kick shootout four months ago in Salem, Va.

But what the new head coach of the Napa Valley College women’s soccer program had engraved on the inside of the ring – “Person Greater Than Player” – is what makes her most proud.

“What people on the outside get to see are the results on game day." Simmons said Wednesday. "But I know that it's our character through the process, our daily intentions, and everything behind the scenes that only we see that matter the most." 

A 2011 graduate of Maplewood High outside St. Louis, Mo., she was a four-sport athlete there and led the Blue Devils to two conference soccer championships. Despite skipping her senior year of soccer to run track and focus on club soccer, she holds school soccer records for goals in a game, season and career.

Simmons went on to play NCAA Division I soccer at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. A midfielder, she played in 72 games, was the Kangaroos’ captain her senior year, and was named the team’s hardest working player in 2012.

She coached U9, U10 and U11 girls at Kansas City’s Brookside Soccer Club from 2011-13. After graduating from UMKC with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in entrepreneurship in 2013, she spent that fall as a volunteer assistant coach at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan.

Between 2013 and 2014, she was a communications and media relations intern for the MLS Champion Sporting Kansas City for five months, and communications and media intern for the National Soccer Coaches Association of America for seven months.

Currently she is pursuing a master's degree at the University of Washington in Intercollegiate Athletic Leadership. Before this however, Simmons came to California to be an assistant coach at NCAA Division II Chico State under longtime head coach Kim Sutton for the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The Wildcats finished 12-5-2 and second in conference each season.

It was then that Simmons got to know the Napa Valley, and vice versa – one reason her name kept coming up when Jerry Dunlap, NVC’s Associate Dean of Physical Education and Athletics, was looking for a coach.

“Randi is beloved and respected by everyone we contacted in the hiring process, expressing her knowledge, enthusiasm and ability to develop the individual as a whole,” Dunlap said in a March 10 press release announcing the hiring of Simmons and new men’s head coach Rogelio Ochoa.

“Napa Valley College believes her background and experience in recruiting at the Division II and III levels will be crucial in the development of an extremely competitive program here at the college. Randi also places an emphasis on education and understands the process of what her student-athletes will need to accomplish academically and athletically to progress to a four-year institution.”

The Storm went 6-0-6 in Bay Valley Conference play in their 2011 maiden season and 6-3-3 in 2012 under head coach Brad Williams, who stepped away from coaching the following year. In 2013, Napa Valley was 7-5 in the BVC under Jason Wharton, who did not return. The program didn’t have enough players to field a team in 2014. Duncan McMartin took over and coached them to a 9-6-1 NVC mark in 2015 and after the 2016 season McMartin did not return.

“It’s been a revolving door of coaching staffs. But I didn’t move halfway across the country to be in and out,” Simmons said. “I came here to really start something special because I believe in the community. I believe there is a huge, untapped potential here.”

Picked for elite mentoring program

Simmons was one of the most sought-after coaches in the country after being selected by the NSCAA for its “30 Under 30” program following her second year of coaching at Chico State.

Annually since 2013, a panel of NSCAA members has selected 15 women and 15 men from several hundred applicants from across the country – from youth up to college levels – to “promote and educate a special group of young coaches who want to lead the way in developing soccer players and enhancing the game.”

Chico State also had a men’s assistant chosen for the program who might be a more familiar face in the Napa Valley – Bertin Loyola, Pacific Union College’s men’s head coach from 2011-14.

Simmons and Loyola received an educational scholarship, complimentary registration to the NSCAA Convention and an additional NSCAA educational event, a travel stipend to attend NSCAA educational opportunities, recognition on and at the 2015 Convention, and access to a mentor dedicated to helping each candidate grow as a coach.

“When I first heard about it,” Simmons recalled, “I thought, ‘That’s too good for me – that’s not me.’ But a couple of my mentors said ‘What are you doing? You’d better get your application in,’ and gave me a little push. It was a pretty rigorous application process, and I had to do a phone interview, but I was very fortunate to be selected out of like 1,000 applicants.

“You’re in it for life and you’re put in a network, which is cool, and once a year you go to a NCSSA convention that anyone who’s anyone in soccer attends. But what really drew me to apply was the mentorship program. Kim Sutton was my first true mentor, and I still have an amazing relationship with her, but I went through my 30 Under 30 mentorship with TJ Buchholz at Toledo, which is Division I. He’s had a similar journey to me, coaching at all different levels, so that was invaluable.”

At Maplewood, a high school similar to St. Helena and Calistoga in that many athletes played multiple sports because it’s so small, she had her first female soccer coaches.

“They really inspired me to push when you’re in an environment that isn’t really pushing you,” Simmons said. “Soccer really motivated me in all areas of my life, the carrot teasing me to go faster, go a little harder, keep me in the right direction, and I knew college was the way to keep playing.”

At UMKC, she didn’t enjoy the first two seasons under her first coaching staff as much as she did the last two under Chris Cissell, who is still at the Kangaroos’ helm.

“There was a lot of turmoil the first two years. The culture wasn’t there – not so much the chemistry, because we were a really bonded group because of what we were going through,” Simmons said. “But when Coach Cissell came in, he took the same group of players and completely put us in a new direction and we were very successful.

“There are three blocks to any program – the performance piece, what everyone sees on game days and the results; the recruiting piece; and the culture, which is the foundation for everything. It wasn’t until I started coaching at Chico State that I really came to appreciate what culture means. It’s everything – every decision you make, how you present yourself, what time you get somewhere, how you eat together, how you interact … any little thing can be put into the bigger picture of a team’s culture. It all comes down to leadership and a coach’s intention with it. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, culture and chemistry are always major factors to success.”

“Some people think you create culture by bringing people in, but I think your culture attracts the right people. I have a huge focus on the character component of all the people coming into the program and how that character fits into our program and where that’s going to take it.”

Already teaching soccer class

She has been teaching a soccer class since March 20, but it’s been in the gym, weight room and various places on campus – not on the field the Storm uses for games, which is off limits right now for surface maintence.

“The class is called ‘Skills and Conditioning,’ but it really should be called ‘Foundations of Women’s Soccer,’ because we’re creating a foundation,” Simmons said. “(The program) is evolving with the handful of returning girls we have right now who are committed to moving forward with the program, and future recruits who are going to be here in the fall. It’s up to them.

“I think you have to give responsibility to the players, while as the coach you’re steering the ship and making sure we’re steady and all going the right direction. This family’s going to look different from any other family I’ve been a part of, so whatever they’re comfortable with, that’s what we’ll start with and start molding from there.”

Simmons hopes potential players on campus see that, through soccer, her goal is to empower young women.

“You’re juggling many balls, especially as a female. It’s a part of life, learning to balance commitments and finding the time to fit into your life and your day what you enjoy and want to do,” she said. “A lot of time in college sports, the fun aspect, the joy, gets taken out of it. I don’t see that happening on any team I’m a part of. I want to have fun, and find a balance between the fun and the work.”

Though her coaching career is back at the community college level where it started, Simmons is excited to be a head coach for the first time.

“I think a lot of people view careers as ladders, and I really view them as train tracks,” she said. “The train might take me a little this way, it might take me a little that way, but at the end of the day I’m moving in the direction that I want to go – empowering young women to move on with the rest of their lives. I’m excited about Napa, and I had coaches who did nothing but encourage me to come out here.”

She wasn’t worried that the NVC program didn’t field a team three years ago.

“When you take over a program, whether the previous staff retired, moved on or got fired, doesn’t matter. What matters is how you flip it and mold it into what you and your players want,” she said. “I’m really trying to take it slow and listen to the community, the clubs here, the students on campus, and figure out where we are with soccer in our hearts. I’m excited about all the responses I’ve heard. There’s definitely room for growth, rapid growth.”

Simmons said she wants to bring in as many local high school players as possible.

“We just have to remember that this is our community, the name on our chest, when we show up to the office every day – Napa Valley – so we want to represent this community to the best of our ability,” she said. “Whether that means my entire roster is kids from Napa and Vintage, that’s fine with me.

“But if it’s only a handful of kids from our area and we to expand our range, then we’ll do that, because I think this is a destination for student athletes – a gateway. Napa Valley College can open doors to the rest of California and the West Coast to move on with their soccer career or academic careers, and I think Rogelio and I both have the gumption to do it. Rogelio and I have very similar visions for what we want to do here, for Napa, so I’m excited and I think other people need to get excited about this.”