Built upon a culture of excellence, the University of Cincinnati women’s soccer program has enjoyed a rebirth in the first four years of Neil Stafford’s tenure in the Queen City. When the 2017 season begins, Stafford’s Bearcats will look to continue to build as they enter the campaign seeking a return to the national tournament and to the top of the American Athletic Conference standings both in the regular and post seasons.
Stafford, who holds a career record of 144-101-31 in 14 years of collegiate coaching, has guided his Bearcats to improved records each of his first four campaigns and carries a 42-39-12 mark into his fifth season at the helm. With another successful season, his Bearcats might not only hoist trophies and reach the national tournament, but also could secure milestone victories for his career (six wins from 150) and UC tenure (eight wins from 50).
Last season, the team once again improved its winning percentage, posting an increase for the fourth year in a row under Stafford while seeing the team score 30 goals for the fourth year in a row, something that hasn’t happened since the early 2000’s. His team also allowed just 21 goals, the lowest total in 2006 (19). Overall, UC went 11-5-4 on the season and found a way to make the AAC tournament as they tied for fourth place and received the fifth seed following crunch-time points secured on the road and at home.
During the 2016 campaign, Vanessa Gilles was one of the top players in the conference as she earned preseason defensive player of the year honors (did so as well prior to the 2017 season) and was second on the team in scoring with a career-best six goals. Julie Gavorski led the charge with eight goals and four game-winners while numerous rookies stepped in and helped lay a foundation of depth for the program.
Defensively, UC was backed by Natalie Smith, who posted nine clean sheets to close out her career with 20.2 (#3 in UC history) while recording 209 total saves. In fact, Smith and the Bearcats defense posted a 6-1-2 record at home in 2016 and allowed just five goals in those matches. That stellar play at home helped UC go on a 5-0-1 streak midway through the season after opening 3-2-0 to start the year.
From there, the Bearcats needed results at the end of the season and got just that as they won 2-0 at UCF before tying USF, 2-2, on a last-second goal from Jaycie Brown. Needing a win in their final match of the year to make the post season, the Bearcats did just that, downing Temple, 2-1.
The 2015 squad posted a 13-6-5 overall record and went 5-3-1 in American Athletic Conference play, seeding the team fourth in the conference tournament. From there, Stafford’s side did what it had done throughout the season: battle. Following a comfortable 2-0 defeat of fifth-seeded Memphis, UC found itself down by the same count at halftime in the semifinals to top-seeded and 10th ranked UConn. Two goals with under 11 minutes remaining in the match forced overtime before UC pulled off the come-from-behind upset.
From there, the ‘Cardiac Cats’ played second-seeded and 18th-ranked USF to a 1-1 draw before winning the title in a penalty shootout to secure the seventh conference crown in program history. The victory also sent the Bearcats to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002 and the seventh time ever.
All that success stemmed from his team’s desire to overcome a 2-2-1 opening to the season. Following that opening five-match stretch, the Bearcats went undefeated over their next nine contests (6-0-3) to put them on a path toward an eventual crown. The third win in the streak was a 3-2 decision at Duquesne, which was the 125th career win of Stafford’s career. When it was all said and done, UC improved its final RPI standing by 93 places over its 2014 finish, standing 39th at the end of the year (132nd in 2014).
Academically, the Bearcats were among the best on campus once again as the program finished with a cumulative GPA of 3.512 for the 2015-16 academic year, which ranked fifth overall among UC programs. Their final GPA also was an improvement from the year before when Stafford’s squad held a cumulative GPA of 3.502 for the 2014-15 year.
In his second year with the Bearcats, UC posted a 10-8-2 mark, which marked only the second double-digit victory total the program had recorded since 2002. To get to that win total, UC was fierce at home, tallying a 7-7-1 record at Gettler Stadium. That win total overall was another improvement for the Bearcats as they ended 2014 with an 8-11-1 mark.
Signature wins have become a staple under Stafford with 2015 being no different. UC handed visiting and 18th-ranked USF a 1-0 setback in conference action before its upset of UConn in the tournament. In 2014, the Bearcats posted wins over NCAA Tournament qualifiers USF and UConn and a draw with two-time conference champion UCF.
Prior to taking the reigns of the Bearcats program, Stafford spent two years at the helm of the Central Michigan program (2011-12) following two years as an assistant coach (2009-10). As head coach, Stafford’s Chippewas went 30-10-4 and advanced to the semifinals of the Mid-America Conference Tournament in 2011 before reaching the finals in 2012. In 2012, following a 15-7-1 record, CMU earned an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament, a first for a member of the MAC. Prior to taking over head coaching duties, the Chips won back-to-back MAC titles and earned a pair of NCAA berths.
Stafford got his start in the collegiate coaching ranks in 2000 as the associate head coach for the men’s and women’s programs at Assumption College. That was followed in 2001 when he spent eight seasons as the head women’s soccer coach at Assumption College, where he is the program’s all-time winningest coach with a 72-61-15 ledger.
At Assumption, he was named the Northeast-10 Conference Coach of the Year in 2004 after guiding the Greyhounds to their first NE-10 conference final, NCAA Division II Tournament berth and NCAA Regional final appearance. Assumption finished the season 14th in the nation with a final record of 15-6. Stafford’s squad followed up the breakthrough 2004 campaign with another NCAA Tournament appearance in 2005, finishing 15-4-4 and returning to the NCAA Regional finals, climbing as high as third in the nation.
A graduate of Marlborough (Mass.) High School, Stafford lettered in soccer, hockey and tennis. He also prepped a year at Worcester Academy where he was named team MVP.
Stafford attended Norwich University, competing in both tennis and soccer, and was named an all-region NESCAC player before transferring to Southern New Hampshire. He led the Penmen to a two-year record of 29-4-4 and then joined the coaching staff as an assistant coach for three years (1995-97), during which the team advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight. He also played with the Boston Storm (USL).
Stafford was named the Director of Operations with the Boston Renegades (W-League) in 1998 and was also Director of the W-1 National Championships in Boston that year. He later served as the head assistant coach of the Boston Renegades under Peter Bradley (1999-2001). The Renegades advanced to three national final fours and won two W-League National Championships in his final three years. His U-18 Renegades were the national runner-ups in 2000.
During his time in Boston, Stafford worked with several high-level players, including Shannon Boxx and Angela Hucles, both of whom have been rostered on the U.S. Women’s National Team. He also worked with Erica Iverson, the W-USA Defender of the Year, and internationals Nathalie Geeris (Netherlands, 1988-92) and Pauliina Miettenen (Finland, 1992-04).
Stafford also worked with Seacoast United Soccer Club in Hampton, N.H., as the Girls Coaching Director (2002-05). In the summer of 2004, Stafford’s Seacoast United Girls 15 squad won its first Super Y-League National Championship.
Stafford earned his bachelor’s degree from Southern New Hampshire in 1996 while majoring in sociology.
Gavin MacLeod is set to return to the University of Cincinnati women’s soccer program in time for the 2017 season as he has been hired as an assistant coach, Bearcats head coach Neil Stafford announced July 3. MacLeod, who most recently served as the Director of Coaching (Girls) for AFC Lightning in Peachtree City, Ga., is returning to UC after having previously served as a volunteer coach for Stafford during the 2014 season.
MacLeod, a native of East Kilbride, Scotland, will serve as the program’s Director of Player Performance, will work along side fellow assistant and goalkeepers coach Matt Cosinuke, the program’s Director of Recruiting.
MacLeod first came to the States to attend Lincoln Memorial University (Harrogate, Tenn.) where he was a standout on the pitch for the Railsplitters. The 2009 graduate played four years for LMU and helped them to the 2017 regular season title in the South Atlantic Conference while adding conference tournament titles in 2005 (Gulf South Conference) and 2007 (SAC) and two NCAA Southeast Region titles (2006 & 2007). The defender also helped lead his side to the 2006 NCAA Division II Final Four before advancing the national final in 2007. Additionally, in 2008, he was selected as an NSCAA Scholar All-Region member while also helping the program attain the first national #1 ranking the school’s history. MacLeod also found time during his collegiate days to play for a pair of USL Premier Division League teams, including the Cincinnati Kings and the Vermont Voltage.
MacLeod is not only no stranger to the Bearcats program, but also to the club programs in the Cincinnati area as several coaching opportunities have doted his resume. Following his collegiate playing career, MacLeod returned to the other side of the pond and began work at Leeds Metropolitan University in Leeds, England, where he not only obtained his MS in Sport & Exercise Nutrition in 2010, but also began his coaching career. Since then, MacLeod has served in a coaching capacity at various levels over the past handful of years, including youth, collegiate and professional levels with his first opportunity arising at Leeds United FC where he served as the nutrition consultant and assistant strength and conditioning coach for the first team while also serving as a member of the youth coaching staff.
In 2012, MacLeod returned to the Cincinnati area where he began work with nearby Kings Soccer Academy as an assistant coach of its USL PDL team while also training elite teams and working with the Elite Performance Training staff. One year later, he garnered his first manager’s position, taking the reigns as head coach of the Cincinnati Saints in 2013. Then, in 2014, while working as a volunteer coach at UC, he also was named the head coach of the Dayton Dutch Lions, a team playing in the USL W-League, while also coaching at Cincinnati United Premier (CUP) and serving as the head coach of the Ohio South ODP team as well.
With a wealth of experience, MacLeod set off to the Atlanta area where he had spent the past three years working with AFC Lightning, a club with teams ranging from U6 to U19 for both boys and girls. While at AFC Lightning, MacLeod was tasked as the Girls Director of Coaching for U13-U19 teams and also served as the head coach for multiple teams. During his time at AFC, MacLeod guided teams to two state league titles, two State Cup finals, Southern Regional championship qualification and oversaw multiple teams achieving promotion to the Southern Regional Premier Leagues.
MacLeod’s knowledge has not been limited to soccer players and programs, however. His experience also included strength & conditioning and nutritional consulting work with members of Great Britain’s women’s basketball team; Scottish national rugby team players; Olympic and world champion triathletes; and world champion boxers. He holds several licenses and certifications in various areas of expertise, including UEFA ‘B’ and NSCAA Premier Diploma (Distinguished Pass) in soccer. He also is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (NSCA & UKSCA) and Level 4 Obesity & Diabetes Management (REPS).