Woody Sherwood, in his first year as women’s soccer head coach, delivered a commendable inaugural result: a 7-11-0 record, which marked the best season for Xavier since 2006 and proved quite dramatic for a team that had scraped together just four wins over the previous two seasons combined.
On the men’s side, meanwhile, head coach Andy Fleming also capped a remarkable first year, doubling the number of wins over the previous two seasons with 10 victories, winning the Atlantic 10 Conference title and leading the team to its first NCAA Tournament appearance.
So what’s different besides the coaches? How can two programs undergo such dramatic turnarounds in such a short timeframe?
“It was about changing the culture,” says Sherwood, analyzing the moves he’s made so far. “Something as simple as competing. The players had lost hope the last four or five years.”
Sherwood highlights his conviction that his team needed to believe it could be competitive and successful, long before any actual success could be achieved. Sounds simple, but such off-the-field mind-training requires a good coach with, well, a good education. Sherwood earned his psychology degree from Xavier in 1991.
“At the end of the day, the players bought into what we asked them to,” he says. “That got them seven wins—equal to the last three years combined.”
Sherwood brought more than just his mind game, though. He also brought plenty of on-the-field knowledge, spending 15 years working his way up through the assistant coaching ranks, including the three previous years as an assistant at Indiana University, a perennial soccer power.
That translated into goals. The previous season, Sherwood notes, the team lost nine of its games by three goals or more. “This season, we lost one game by three goals or more.”
Some of the opponents toppled during Sherwood’s march through the South include Butler, Bowling Green, Mercer and Western Carolina on the way to nabbing the Catamount Classic title. Can Sherwood name a particular highlight from his streak? “Winning the Western Carolina tournament was certainly something.”
Men’s soccer, meanwhile, became the first No. 6 seed to win the A-10 Championship after defeating No. 2 seed La Salle, capping an improbable season and tournament dash. This turnaround was equally amazing, considering this team had scraped together just five winning games in two years.
“It was a 10-month journey that started in the weight room in January and culminated in a celebratory pile in November upon winning the championship,” Fleming says.
Fleming arrived on campus after serving three seasons as associate head coach and recruiting coach at Northwestern University. Prior to this, he was an associate head coach at Boston University. After graduating from Marist College in 1997, where he served as team captain, Fleming joined the Marist staff as assistant coach.
He took the experience and built an inverse pyramid at Xavier that started with addressing large-scale, general points—how things were done, team habits, mentality and so on. “These things, despite just one win and one goal in our first six games, developed early in the year and provided an infrastructure as we went from trying not to lose games to expecting to win games later in the year.”
The most recent season’s final tally: 10-7-4. Fordham, Temple, Charlotte and La Salle were among those to fall before Fleming’s Musketeers.
“Our program’s motto is ‘Our family versus their team.’”