Welcome Back, Callie: Liberty's new soccer coach has goal of rebuilding her former team

  • Liberty High School girls soccer head coach Callie Gillen, center, leads her team in a pep cheer prior to the Lions' Oct. 10 game with Winters Mill. The soccer standout, who was part of a 2005 eam that went deep into the state playoffs, has returned to her alma mater as the new coach of the squad. After an 0-3 start, the team has come on strong, reaching a 6-4 record overall and 4-2 in county play.
Liberty High School girls soccer head coach Callie Gillen,… (Photo by Phil Grout )
October 13, 2011|By Steve Jones

Callie Gillen graduated from Liberty High School in 2006 and after four years at Mount St. Mary's University, the 23-year old Eldersburg resident returned to her alma mater as a mathematics teacher.

This year, she added another instructional role, becoming head coach of the girls' soccer program where she played not that long ago.

It's not the same program that she left, though; and not the same program that has a tradition of dominance

Liberty reached the state semifinals three straight seasons, 1992, 1993 and 1994, and shared the 1996 Class 3A/2A state championship with South River.

In the past 15 years, however, the Lions have not advanced beyond the regional finals and are coming off of consecutive losing seasons.

"The program has been competitive and posted good records," Liberty Athletic Director Ed DeVincent said. "But as with most programs, it's a cyclical process. We have talent coming through the feeder system and that will bring the program back up."

Gillen, who played on the 2005 Liberty squad that lost in the Class 2A West Region final to state champion Middletown, knows it's her job to bring the program back to prominence.

"The first thing I had to do was change the culture and the attitude toward losing," Gillen said. "The girls have to want to be seen as a better team. In the last few years, Liberty lost its winning attitude. But I think it's coming back."

Gillen's energy and knowledge have already made a tangible difference. After Liberty lost its first three games this season, Gillen didn't like what she was hearing from the players.

"We started out 0-3 and they'd get on the bus and start chatting about all this other stuff," Gillen said.

"That didn't happen when I was a player," she said. "If we lost a game, we weren't happy and talking about other things on the ride home. We were trying to figure out what we did wrong and what we were going to do better the next day."

When the team stepped off the bus after a loss at North Carroll, Gillen had a message for them.

"That third loss was the turning point," Gillen said. "I told them that they were too happy to be 0-3. They needed to think about what they had to do to be 1-3, then 2-3, then 3-3. They finally realized that it wasn't okay to be 0-3. Now, they're getting used to that winning feeling."

After Gillen's speech, the Lions started winning. After that 0-3 start, the Lions have gone 6-1, with perhaps the most satisfying win came Oct. 11 when Liberty defeated crosstown rival Century, 3-2, in double overtime. As of mid-week, the Lions were 6-4 overall and 4-2 in county play.

"I think the reason that we're doing a little better is that we're much more disciplined," Gillen said. "As a coach, it's about developing players, teaching them how you bounce back from losses and taking the next step when you're in the middle ground. The biggest reward is that you see players improve their skill level on the field or run a play in practice that works out in the game."

Family of good sports

Gillen grew up playing soccer in the Freedom Aea Recreation Council program, the feeder system for both Liberty High and nearby Century High.

Yet, she also comes from a family steeped in another fall sport. Her parents, Tom and Laura Gillen, grew up in the football hotbed of western Pennsylvania and she holds fond memories of pickup football games with her dad and younger brothers, Matt and Marc.

Her grandfather and great-uncle played with Hall of Fame quarterback and Baltimore Colts legend Johnny Unitas at St. Justin's High School in Pittsburgh.

But the three Gillen children chose to play soccer. Matt and Marc played on the 2008 Liberty squad that reached the state final and Matt now is a junior defender atMcDaniel College. Gillen's dad, who commutes to Buffalo for work, helps his daughter coach the Lions when he is in town.

"I grew up in a family that was naturally competitive," Gillen said. "Those neighborhood football games helped me see what strategies I could use to be successful and how to get myself back up after being knocked down."

From the time she took up the game at the Freedom recreation level through her senior year of high school, soccer remained her passion.

She didn't play collegiate soccer at Mount St. Mary's, choosing to concentrate on her studies. When Gillen graduated with a mathematics degree in 2010, she set her sights on a teaching career.

"I knew as a high school senior that I wanted to be a math teacher," Gillen said. "But that was just the first part of my plan. I also wanted to come back and give back to the soccer program, because I had such a great experience here."

'Come and get it'

During her senior year at Mount St. Mary's, Gillen performed her student teaching at Liberty, and also served as an assistant to Lions head coach Rick Harmer.

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