The task of guiding the Okanagan Challenge to its third consecutive appearance in the Pacific Coast Soccer League’s championship game rests with Kelly Wolverton.
The 29-year-old native of Kansas City has been named the new head coach of the Challenge for the 2011 campaign.
Wolverton takes over the reins from Clint Schneider who is a now a full-time, 12-month employee and assistant coach with the NCAA’s Simon Fraser Clan.
Wolverton has been an assistant coach the last four seasons with The University of the South men’s soccer program in Sewanee, Tenn.
He came highly recommended to the local men’s club by Schneider and another former Challenge head coach, Alan Koch.
Both Schneider and Koch worked on the coaching staff with Wolverton for one season at Baker University in Kansas.
“It was a no-brainer for me to come here,” said Wolverton, who played four years at Baker U from 1999 to 2002. “Alan and Clint both told me a lot of good things about the team and the Okanagan. This is a really good step and opportunity for me. I’m looking forward to it.”
Wolverton said Koch contacted him two years ago about the possibility of co-coaching the Challenge, but he was unable to make the commitment.
He’s happy a second chance came around.
“I know the Challenge has a good tradition and I want to help continue that,” he said. “I finally feel confident going into a head coaching job. With other coaches I’ve worked with, I feel I have the background I need. And what better place to do it.”
In Wolverton, team president Maria Ridgewell is confident the Challenge has landed the right man for the job.
“Kelly needs to be out coaching on his own and he wants to be able to put a championship on his resume,” said Ridgewell. “It’s something he wants to achieve and of course we want to see him be successful at that.
“He’s still a fairly young man, too, and that’s good. He’s appreciative of what young guys go through at this level, he’s not that far away from it. We expect he’ll relate well to the team.”
Wolverton takes over a team that enjoyed successful back-to-back seasons under Schneider.
The Challenge won both the PCSL regular season and playoff titles in 2009, then made it to the league finale last year before losing in a shootout to the Vancouver Thunderbirds.
As for Wolverton’s approach to coaching, expect his passion for the game to come through—but in a somewhat reserved manner.
“I like to think I’m more of a practice coach, get the guys prepared and see how the game goes. I like to be more of a quiet type, but in control at the same time,” he said.
“(Soccer) is ingrained in me, I love the game and I want to be around it as much and as long as I possibly can.”
Wolverton expects several returning players and a number of newcomers from both Kelowna and the Lower Mainland will make up the majority of the PCSL squad this summer. He also plans on contacting potential players from California, Kansas, and Missouri, as well as a number of his former players.
Wolverton will arrive in Kelowna in late April, with the Challenge to open the 2011 edition of training camp in early May.