Soccer '96

February 1, 2022

Back Then

Under the leadership of founding coach Peter Albright, the Spiders finished their program’s inaugural 1996 season at 7-9-2, a remarkable accomplishment for a new program. In November, past and current players and coaches gathered to celebrate the program’s 25th anniversary.
By Matthew Dewald

They called themselves the Dogg Pound. It was the mid-’90s, after all, and Snoop Dogg was on the charts. Kendra Powell, ’00, came up with the nickname, according to The Collegian. It doubled down on the team’s aggressive play, the sense that if you just go for it, good things happen.

In 1996, good things were happening for women’s soccer at Richmond. That year — the same in which Mia Hamm and Team USA won Olympic women’s soccer’s first-ever gold in Atlanta — 21 Spiders took the field to launch UR’s varsity program.

Fourteen of those players were freshmen. One of them, Maya Clark, ’00 and L’03, scored the program’s first-ever goal. Another, Kirsi Cronk Mendoza, ’00, scored the next two. Those three goals came in the program’s first game, versus Liberty, which was also its first win and first shutout.

At the team’s home debut against Lehigh two days later, more than 1,000 fans turned out at UR’s soccer complex, which sat where Robins Stadium is today. Student-athletes from various sports created a tunnel for the team to run through, and the men’s soccer captain offered flowers.

Up to this debut, the only intercollegiate women’s soccer on Richmond’s campus was being played at the club level. Those teams had been on a roll, dominating opponents for several years, Ruth Goehring, then an associate athletic director, told The Collegian in September 1996.

Their success coincided with increased efforts nationally to comply with Title IX, which requires universities to provide equal opportunities for men and women in sports. Strengthening the gender equality of sport programs was part of Richmond’s strategic plan of the time, and UR was the only member of the Colonial Athletic Association that wasn’t fielding a women’s soccer team. The sport was an obvious addition.

For high school players weighing their college options, Richmond’s 1996 team was a unique proposition to consider.

“I thought it was an amazing opportunity to start this whole program and, too, knowing that there would be so many of us coming in at the same time,” Mendoza said in a recent interview.

For recruits, it meant immediate playing time, and they took advantage of it. Mendoza, the team’s lead scorer during the inaugural season, was an all-conference player for four years and still holds the program record for career assists. She, Clark, and their teammates are still all over the program’s record books.

Chris Brucia, ’99, saw it coming. An assistant sports editor for The Collegian, he covered the 1996 team and ended his season wrap-up story by noting that 1996’s freshmen would be 1997’s sophomores. “You can probably do the math yourself in order to figure out just how dangerous this team will be three seasons from now when the majority of the team will be seniors,” he wrote. “And by then, not many coaches will want to play this team.”

He was spot on. The 1999 team played in the conference championship final. The next season — the first after everyone on the inaugural team had graduated — the team they built made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament.