Tribe Women’s soccer is the ultimate labor of love for Head Coach Julie Shackford ‘88 and Assistant Coach Marsha Lycan ‘87. The two met at William & Mary, but their paths to the school were polar opposites.
Shackford, one of many Tribe legacies in her family, was set on W&M from the beginning. Her aunt and cousin went to the College, and Shackford loved the campus.
“It had a great magic about it,” she explained. In 1975, Shackford was the first female camper under men’s soccer coach Al Albert. From then on Shackford was “signed, sealed, and delivered.”
Lycan had her heart set on UVA; it wasn’t until December of her senior year that her mother pushed her to try out at W&M. There was a snowstorm, forcing the tryout indoors on the basketball court. By the end of the tryout, she told the coach that she was in, “This is where I want to be,” she said. “There were 15 of my future classmates and some of my best friends for life in that gym trying out with me. We just all connected. I decided right then and there.”
Shackford has coached at Princeton, Carnegie Mellon, and now, at her alma mater. Uniquely, she currently coaches her daughter, Kayleigh Shackford ‘23, who continues the Tribe family legacy. Kayleigh was recruited by former coach John Daly and does “a lot of her individual meetings with other coaches on staff,” according to (Coach) Shackford. “She’s just another player on the team, our team of 30 daughters,” added Lycan.
Shackford is most excited that her daughter gets to have the William & Mary experience. “We [currently] have three soccer legacies [on the team], which is pretty cool,” Shackford said, referencing Jillian O’Toole and Zoe Doughty, the daughters of former Tribe women’s soccer players.
Shackford added that current players Addie Puskar and Emily Crocco are also Tribe Athletics legacies, with family members having competed in gymnastics, soccer, and baseball.
Undoubtedly, William & Mary women’s soccer has created an unparalleled community among alumni and current players. “It’s pretty special,” said Shackford. The program is going on 40 years of existence, celebrating its 35th year of Tribe women’s soccer five years ago.
“The links between all the alums, whether you played in the 80’s or just graduated, is something really special,” she added. “That’s what we sell our recruits on, is that you’re in this network for life.”
Shackford attributes the interconnectedness of the team to Lycan, she has done an “incredible job of connecting everybody through newsletters and fundraising. We have mentoring programs and it’s just a special sisterhood that not too many places have,” said Shackford. “A lot of it goes back to John Daly,” said Lycan.
Everyone who had ever played for the program played for Daly until Shackford took the program over in 2017 (similar to Jimmye Laycock with Football). When Shackford and Lycan were playing, there were barely one hundred D-1 programs in the country. Now, there are nearly 350.
Given the sheer amount of programs nationwide, trying to break into the top-10 is a difficult feat, but Shackford and Lycan see no reason why the Green and Gold can’t do so. “We’re going to die trying. We feel like there’s no reason why we can’t with our alumni support. Our administrators are really, really committed to women’s soccer. And we have the most supportive alumni. At the whole school, morally and financially, they contribute a lot to our program and the whole athletics department. We feel really supported, and are in the process of re-doing our practice facility and adding a turf field,” Shackford said.
The pandemic has definitely taken a toll on players, but Lycan and Shackford are committed to the mental and physical health of their team. “We talk a lot about mental health,” said Shackford. “It’s been at the forefront of all of our conversations,” said Lycan. “Anybody who thinks the pandemic isn’t having an effect on young adults and mental health is in denial,” she added.
COVID-19 has also resulted in a shortened season. With only four games remaining, the team is emphasizing getting as much out of every day as possible. “It’s been incredibly awesome to be able to train so much, because the benefit of having so few games allows us to really focus on the soccer piece,” said Shackford.
There has also been a major shift in leadership on the team.
“We have a group of seniors we call the Tribe Leadership Council,” Shackford said. One of Lycan’s favorite coaching moments was when the seniors approached them, explaining that they, “want to lead this team,” and that they didn’t want to leave the program where it is now.
The coaches decided not to have captains, because the seniors all brought unique qualities to the team. “If you think about it, it probably could be the moment that changes the whole program,” said Shackford.
With this new leadership, the team aims to win the CAA championship — and Lycan thinks they have enough talent to do so. “It’s just one game at a time. You don’t know if it might be your last one for a while. So they’re very focused on taking it very seriously,” she said.
Despite everything that’s going on, the coaches and players are keen on having fun and growing as a team. “Coaches do their own dance. We have our own dance party,” said Shackford, referencing the team’s pre-game rituals. “Everyone buying into the culture is realizing that we’re responsible for our own individual growth, but also what we are doing to help our team get better on a daily basis has really been the theme,” Shackford added.
Before the head coach position was vacated by Daly, Lycan served as a volunteer assistant alongside him.
When Daly retired in 2017, Lycan figured she was done. “I was practically putting my stuff back in the car,” she said. The former teammates reunited when Shackford got a call from W&M’s Athletic Director, asking her to come back. At the time, Shackford was coaching at FC Virginia’s Development Academy.
When Shackford decided to make her return to Williamsburg, she soon realized that she was going to need help coaching the team while raising three kids herself. Having recently remarried, the challenge at W&M was taking another D-1 coaching job with her kids and husband living in Northern Virginia.
To help make everything a success, she knew she was going to need the best; perhaps unsurprisingly, Coach Shackford then enlisted Lycan to come on as an Assistant Coach.
“It’s worked out. It’s been awesome. It’s our labor of love. We’re not here for the money. We’re not here for the prestige. We’re truly here because the opportunities it gave us and we want to share that,” said Shackford.
Next up: Lycan and Shackford will lead the Tribe into Blacksburg on Saturday, March 20th to take on Virginia Tech.
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