Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Pinard has built unrivaled program of excellence at Williams College

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Of all the great Berkshire County high school and college coaches who have patrolled sidelines or sat in dugouts, Williams College women's soccer coach Michelyne Pinard might be first among equals.

After all, when you have lost only 46 games out of 337 played in 17 seasons, and won three — count them — three national championships, you get to be called the best of the best.

Unfortunately for Williams, Pinard will pack up her whistle and clipboard after the end of the 2019 season, and head to California, where she will become the athletic director for The Thatcher School, a private, boarding school in Ojai.

Pinard developed 18 All-Americans in 17 seasons, won NCAA Division III championships in 2015, 2017 and 2018, and won an incredible 257 games. That number is 36 more than the two women who preceded Pinard as the Williams coach. And she also spent a season as the interim women's hockey coach — a sport she played at her alma mater at Dartmouth.

Deciding coaches or players on proverbial Mount Rushmores can be difficult. But with all of the great coaches that have worked at Williams, Pinard is up there with the best of them. If she doesn't make it into the United Soccer Coaches Hall of Fame at some point, there is no justice.

The Eph head coach will start her 18th, and final season, on Sept. 4, when the reigning national champions play Hamilton.

Pinard told me there was never any thought about letting Williams play under an interim coach for 2019. She said she's here to finish the job.

"Actually, that wasn't even part of how I was thinking about it. A transition or a change this late in the year is just hard," she said. "I wouldn't think that would be fair to the women.

"I've worked long and hard to create this. Walking away at this point, I couldn't imagine doing it."

Telling the Williams community, and especially the women on the soccer team, was the most difficult thing she's had to do. It was doubly difficult because very few Eph players are on campus right now, so Pinard said she had to write an email to them.

"I've been writing over the last couple of weeks," she said. "It wasn't a full-time job, but it was many iterations, to make sure I articulated what I wanted to articulate, and that the players knew the why and that it made sense.

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"Mostly that we could have a clear mind for this fall, because there's still exciting stuff to come, and I want to process this with them now for the next month, and be ready to go come fall."

A number of different Williams teams have won NCAA Division III championships since Michelyne Pinard first arrived in the Purple Valley back in 2002. Her team has been as successful as any, not just at Williams, but in the NESCAC, in the Northeast and in the nation.

"I can tell you that I wanted to create something that resembled this," she said. "You don't have control over the championships, so that was something I wanted. But it was really about the experience. I wanted to create an unforgettable experience for young women that amazing players wanted to be a part of. I thought, at a place like Williams, if you do that you could win championships, several. I think that's played out that way. Did I think it was going to happen? Certainly, in the early years, absolutely not. Was I hoping? Yes.

"Am I thrilled that it has evolved to being what it is? Absolutely."

If you are an opposing women's soccer coach, I wouldn't expect this to have any real negative impact on the 2019 Williams season. After all, it was a team that was 19-1-4 a year ago, and graduated only three players who participated in more than 15 matches.

The returning squad includes All-Americans Sydney Jones and Sarah Kelly, along with Pittsfield's Ilana Albert and Manchester, Vt.'s Georgia Lord. The Ephs have a truly solid class of rising sophomores.

"We didn't know this was coming a year ahead of time, but we're excited about trying to do what we always do, which is just compete at the highest level and having fun while we do it," Pinard said. "I think [the first-year class] will be an impactful group. There's a lot of them, and they have some great skill sets that will be helpful."

The Pinard Farewell Tour will start on Sept. 4, and will end — NCAA tournament not included — On Oct. 29, at rival Middlebury.

"Personally, I can't wait for the season to get going," she said. "I think what my team will see and what people will see is, for me, is what we do. What we do is we compete.

"I'm not saying goodbye until it's all over."

For Williams, that's a good thing.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.


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