Women’s Soccer: Foster’s time at NU runs out

Jonah Rosenblum

When Stephanie Foster was named Northwestern’s head coach on July 3, 2006, she took over the reins of a program that was mired in scandal.

During her time at the helm of the Wildcats, Foster was able to clear the program’s name, but proved unable to clear the stench of losing.

After a 2-16-1 finish in 2011, Foster’s fate was sealed when NU athletics director Jim Phillips announced Monday that her contract would not be renewed.

“We want to thank Coach Foster for her dedicated contributions to Northwestern as a student-athlete and coach,” Phillips was quoted as saying on the NU Athletics website. “As an alum of the program, Stephanie will always be a part of the Wildcat family. We wish her the very best in her future endeavors.”

The announcement puts an end to a six-year era in which Foster compiled a 42-62-13 record, including a 20-35-6 mark in Big Ten play.

Ali Rubnitz, a defender with the Cats from 2006 to 2009, said it was hard to watch her former team suffer throughout its 2011 campaign, particularly when NU lost 6-0 to Stanford right in front of her very eyes.

“Heartbreaking sums it up kind of well because you know that there’s some heart out there, you know that the energy and the potential and talent is out there,” Rubnitz said. “It’s kind of almost been like a curse on Northwestern. They have all the components to be a successful program, and yet when it comes, they just didn’t have the results this season.”

Foster’s first years were distinguished by improvement and recovery. When she took over as head coach, the program was still reeling from a scandal in which photos were posted online allegedly showing freshman members of the team involved in a hazing ritual that included sexually suggestive acts. Although coach Jenny Haigh was never proven to have any knowledge of or involvement with the incident, she resigned shortly thereafter, opening up a coaching job for Foster.

Foster’s first team finished 8-10-2 and posted two more wins in Big Ten play than Haigh’s final team had. In Foster’s second season, the Cats cracked the .500 mark with a 9-7-4 finish. In 2008, NU continued its rise, with its first 10-win season since 2004 and only the fifth such season in school history.

“Some of the most prominent memories I have are her pregame talks,” Rubnitz said. “I remember time and time again sitting in the locker room, whether it be home or away, she always had something to say to motivate us and play with even more passion than I thought imaginable.”

Not one of Foster’s teams would ever post a winning record again, however, and while a 2010 victory over No. 3 UCLA catapulted NU into the national rankings for the first time since the 1998 season, highlights would generally be few and far between for the remainder of Foster’s career.

Before taking over as head coach in Evanston, Foster excelled as a student-athlete for NU. She remains the program’s second all-time leading scorer with 29 goals and 73 points and earned the team’s offensive MVP award in 1994, 1996 and 1997. Her 1996 season might have been her finest as she set an NCAA record by scoring two goals in a five-second span, captured the Big Ten scoring title and led the Cats to the NCAA Tournament.

Sitting at the program’s helm, Foster was never able to bring the program anywhere near the NCAA Tournament during her six years as head coach. Even so, her legacy remains strong, Rubnitz said.

“It’s just sad,” Rubnitz said. “I just know that I came away with such a great experience from Northwestern, and she was a great coach with a lot of passion and unfortunately didn’t put up the numbers and the statistics this year. She changed a lot in the program, and if she’s happy, then I’m happy.”

Foster’s departure puts an end to a reign of stability within NU’s women’s soccer program.

“It was really special,” Rubnitz said. “You definitely develop a deeper connection having a coach for your whole collegiate experience. It’s just the end of an era.”

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