WILLIAMSTOWN — Michelyne Pinard said the toughest thing about her decision to leave Williams College was letting her women's soccer players know about it.
"Saying 'Yes' at [The Thacher School] was easy because it's a truly inspiring community to be a part of. If I could bring my team there, that would be a dream scenario," Pinard said. "Saying goodbye and letting the team know was heart-wrenching. It was one of the hardest emails I've ever had to send."
Williams announced on Monday that Pinard will leave the school after the 2019-20 school year, her 18th at the helm of the program, to become the director of athletics at The Thacher School, a private boarding school in Ojai, Calif.
"You build relationships," she said in an interview with The Eagle. "It's been a pretty overwhelming week, that's for sure."
Pinard finished her 17th season at Williams in 2018, guiding her team to an NCAA Division III national championship. It was Williams' third NCAA title in the last four years.
Her record through 17 seasons is 257-46-34. That translates to a winning percentage of .813, the fifth-best active winning percentage in D-III.
Pinard is only the third coach of the women's program in Williams history. She replaced current athletic director Lisa Melendy in 2002. Melendy coached the Williams women from 1985 to 2001, stepping aside for Pinard when she made the move into a full-time administrative position at Williams.
"As the former women's soccer coach," Melendy said in a release, "I could not have imagined a better path for the team than the good fortune of having Michelyne as their coach. She has set a high standard of excellence and created a fellowship of women soccer players at Williams who will remember their time here fondly.
"She proved it is possible in college athletics to reach the highest levels of achievement on the field, while still maintaining the highest level of commitment to intellectual and academic pursuits."
Pinard, who played soccer and ice hockey at Dartmouth, graduated in 1998. She spent two years at Middlebury as an assistant soccer and hockey coach, before joining the women's soccer coaching staff at Penn.
She assisted current Vanderbilt women's coach Darren Ambrose at Penn, and the Quakers were 25-10-4 in two seasons. That included a 15-2-3 record in 2001, where the Quakers tied for the Ivy League championship. Pinard joined Williams the next season.
"When I was considering the next challenge, the natural place to look was other coaching positions, potentially Division I coaching positions," Pinard said in a release. "I was just never truly interested in pursuing a coaching position beyond the one I had because I have always felt like I have the best collegiate coaching job in the country."
Under Pinard, Williams won NCAA championships in 2015, 2017 and 2018, beating Washington University-St. Louis, the University of Chicago and Middlebury, respectively for those three titles.
The 2018 championship was won on penalty kicks against Williams' long-time NESCAC rival from Vermont. Goalkeeper Olivia Barnhill made a key stop to lock up the championship.
Williams also made it to the national semifinals in 2008 and 2014. The Ephs have been to 12 consecutive D-III tournaments, and their streak of six straight trips to the Division III Sweet 16 is rare. Williams is one of two women's soccer programs to have an active streak that long.
In Pinard's 17 seasons, Williams has won eight NESCAC tournament championships, played in 13 conference title games and has a NESCAC tourney mark of 30-8-8.
Williams has had 18 All-Americans during Pinard's tenure, and Williams has had the NESCAC player of the year in five of the last 12 years.
In 2017, Williams defender Danielle Sim was named the Division III national player of the year. In 2015, Mai Mitsuyama was named the D-III midfielder of the year, while in 2014, Lilly Wellenbach was chosen the D-III defender of the year.
"I am really proud of what the women, assistant coaches, and I have been able to create," Pinard said. "When I consider how much energy, effort and selflessness it has taken for every member of every team over the last 17 years to create what we have created, it takes my breath away."
Thacher became a co-ed school in 1978, coincidentally the same year that Leslie Orton coached the first Williams women's soccer team. Thacher fields varsity and junior varsity teams in 10 different sports.
Pinard will coach this one final season, and Melendy said a nationwide search for Pinard's replacement will begin after the 2019 season.
"Hers will be big shoes to fill," said the athletic director, "but I know Williams will be able to attract an outstanding pool of candidates."
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.