Basalyga family is made for coaching
John and Lindsay each have found success on the sidelines
John Basalyga dreamed of being a college soccer coach when he was a student at Bowling Green.
But after graduation in 1973, his dream was put on hold. He eventually took a job at a high school in Cincinnati and figured he’d never coach at the college level.
Fast forward to 2010. Northern Kentucky is on top of the NCAA Division II soccer world, winners of the national championship under the direction of Basalyga, who took over the program in 2003 after 24 years of coaching soccer at Turpin High School in Cincinnati.
The Norse, which has won four regional titles since clinching its first NCAA tourney berth in 2006, is 13-4 and was ranked sixth in the country in the last week of October before falling in the first round of the conference tournament.
If you ask Basalyga if he ever thought the above-mentioned success was possible, he admits even he couldn’t have dreamed up the run he has had in charge of the Norse, especially at his age.
NKU was 4-9-3 in his first season but improved to 12-6-2 a year later. It's been uphill ever since.
“I never thought it would be possible. No way, no how,” Basalyga said. “To be able to coach a team at a high level and have the success that we have had, doesn’t seem like it would be possible at all. I took a different route to get here. I guess you can say I’ve done everything backwards, but I’ve been fortunate to coach some special kids.”
His success has left quite an impression on his daughter, Lindsay, now the head women’s soccer coach at Eastern Kentucky.
Lindsay, a 2001 graduate of Maryland and four-year letter-winner for the Terrapins, is one of the youngest coaches in women’s college soccer. She has built the EKU program from the ground up, starting with its first year in 2005, and often looks to her dad for inspiration.
“My dad is definitely a role model,” Lindsay said. “I am very proud of what he has done at Northern. I always joke with him that if there was a lacrosse team at Northern, he could be a successful coach in that sport as well.”
She could very well be right. After all, it seems that her father has a golden touch. All someone has to do is look at what he did at Turpin to understand his knack for getting the most out of a team.
In 24 seasons with the Spartans, John's teams won 325 games, lost 93 and tied 58. His teams won state titles in 1986, 2000 and 2001 and enjoyed a run of 22 consecutive winning seasons.
Turpin also nailed down 15 sectional championships.
His secret to success isn’t anything special. In fact, he has taken the same approach to the college game that he did with his high school teams.
“I believe in hard work. It’s that simple,” John said. “If you find players who believe in that and are willing to put in the time to work hard, you will get results.”
It’s why John focuses on recruiting players that will fit his style.
“You want players that have a strong work ethic and are willing to play your style of soccer. It’s not always easy to find those players,” he said. “But I’ve been lucky enough to find players who make everything work. They all buy into what we are trying to accomplish.”
The only real difference between high school and college, with the exception of talent level, of course, is that a coach has a little more freedom to do what it takes to excel.
“You don’t have to worry as much about the administration and parents and the pressure that comes with it,” John said. “You have a lot more freedom to do what you think is right for the team. I had a lot of fun being a high school coach, and now, I’m having a lot of fun here at Northern. It’s a great job.”
Lindsay is doing what she can to follow the lead of her dad.
She was hired as the first EKU head coach, and after a rough transition to Division I soccer, Lindsay guided the Colonels to the Ohio Valley Conference tournament for the first time in 2008.
EKU was 7-9-3 through the regular season. The Colonels are making their fourth consecutive trip to the OVC tournament, where they are the No. 2 seed and earned a first-round bye.
“I just try to stay true to myself and try to be the best coach possible, but it’s nice to be able to call up my dad and ask him for advice,” Lindsay said. “He knows so much about the game and I call him a lot to talk about soccer.”
The funny thing is, Lindsay almost avoided going into coaching. She had played soccer her entire life, including being coached by her dad on her club team, and figured her life in the game would end after college.
But after working as a graduate assistant at Toledo, Lindsay knew she wanted to be a coach.
“I felt like I needed a break from the game. Soccer had been my whole life,” Lindsay said. “I figured I would get my Masters Degree and get a regular job. After my first week at Toledo, I knew I wanted to be a coach.”
John said he talks with his daughter about five times a day. He is impressed with what she has accomplished in such a short period of time.
“She got her work ethic and her passion for the game from me, but that is about it,” John said. “What she has done at Eastern is something I could not have done at her age. There is just no way. She knows so much about the game and I’m proud of what she has been able to do.”
Soon enough, the postseason will arrive for NKU, and once the season is done at EKU, Lindsay plans on hanging out with her dad and following the Norse along the tournament trail.
“I spend my first part of the offseason supporting his team,” Lindsay said. “It’s fun watching him coach and watching his team succeed. It’s neat that we have both been able to coach college soccer and I’m lucky that I have a dad that I can turn to whenever I need advice or anything else.”
As for John, well, he doesn’t spend too much time reflecting on what his teams have accomplished so far. Of course, he never hesitates to remind himself of how lucky he is as a coach.
“I appreciate the opportunity I have had to be a coach here,” John said. “There aren’t a lot of schools that would have given someone my age this kind of opportunity. I am definitely in a good situation."