Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: A decade on, Williams' Pinard has established her dynasty in women's soccer
Eight days ago, Michelyne Pinard coached the Williams College women's soccer team to its second consecutive NCAA Division III championship, and third in four years. That one year, Williams got to within a game of the Final Four.
Now Walt Bell will not be able to play for an NCAA football championship at the University of Massachusetts, but he could do far worse than casting a glance westward toward Pinard and the Ephs.
In any sport, it is difficult to win one national championship. It's also pretty darn difficult to do it back-to-back. But to do it three times in four years, and in a sport as finicky as soccer can be, is really impressive.
"My goal about 10 years ago, was to be mentioned in the same sentence with Messiah and Wheaton and William Smith and those programs," Pinard said. "I feel like we are now, and that's pretty exciting to me."
The Williams championship run got me thinking about 2014. That year, Williams did make it to the Final Four, but lost on PKs to Lynchburg. The Ephs had a big fan in Boston that season in Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
That's because his cousin was Alex McInturf, who played for the Ephs that season and then helped coach them the next season to a national championship win over Washington-St. Louis.
"That's pretty sweet, isn't it?" Stevens told Celtics reporters before the Final Four weekend in Kansas City.
Even back then, Stevens recognized that Pinard could coach a little bit.
Before the Celtics played Chicago in December 2014, he was asked if he had a chance to speak to his cousin's team.
"No," he said. "They've got a great coach — a better coach than I am. She can handle that."
That has proven to be true, because after the loss in 2014, Pinard guided the Ephs to a championship in 2015, 2017 and this year.
"There have been a lot of ups and downs throughout the season," Pinard said, when I found the Ephs getting off the bus after returning from Greensboro, N.C. "What I think was most impressive is how tight and together this team has stayed throughout both, and how much fun they had."
Michelyne Pinard is to Division III soccer in New England what Geno Auriemma is to Division I women's basketball in New England. That is a good thing.
Which leads us to the new football coach at "The Flagship."
Bell can only hope to be as successful as Pinard has been at Williams.
While a national championship can't be on the UMass radar, Bell can see winning seasons and possible bowl bids on the horizon.
In order to do that, the Minutemen will have to do better than the 4-8 that they put into the ledger in 2018.
The new UMass coach is running one of only three Division I-FBS teams in New England. Last year, UMass went 1-1 against them — losing to Boston College and beating Connecticut.
"I could give you guys a lot to write about, but I'm not going to do that yet," Bell said with a laugh, when he was asked about the Division I-FBS landscape in New England. "I'm really excited to be where we are. I'm excited about the brand of football we're going to play. I'm excited about the brand of offense that we're going to play. I'm excited about how our kids will be treated on a day-to-day basis, in comparison to other programs in New England.
"I look forward to competing against those guys."
Bell comes to Amherst as somewhat of an offensive savant. He has been an offensive coordinator at three different Division I-FBS schools, and all before turning 34.
So, what will a Walt Bell offense at UMass look like?
"We've always been able to make the system fit the players, really what our talent allows," he said. "Who's going to be the quarterback? Where do our strengths lie? What does the roster really look like in terms of who are the kids that will give us an opportunity to win? Defensively, that's a little bit system-based."
Bell said he wants to win games. But in the first season, the wins and losses might not be as important as building the team's foundation.
"You guys are tired of hearing it because it sounds like over and over again the same thing, but I'm a lot more concerned in year one how we play," Bell said. "Do we play with unbelievable effort, with fanatical effort? Do we play fundamentally sound? Do we play for each other?
"If we do those things, all the other things will fall into place."
Pinard said that a decade ago, she wanted her team to be mentioned with some of the other top soccer squads in Division III. Now that Walt Bell is in Amherst, he wants something similar for the Minutemen.
"A winning football team and a winning culture," he said, "and the quicker we can get that done, the faster the wins will come."
Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeaglecom, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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