RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Brittany Lohman of Nutley and Amanda Mottola of Secaucus first met nearly a decade ago, when they were teammates on the Meadowlands United Soccer Club. They went on to play together for two years at Felician College, where they were a part of the renaissance of that school's women's soccer program.
This fall, Lohman, 25, and Mottola, 22, are again making soccer news together. The pair of Felician graduates is among the youngest varsity high school head coaches in northern New Jersey. Lohman is beginning her second season as the girls' soccer coach for the Becton-Wallington co-op squad, while Mottola recently ascended to the same position at her alma mater, Secaucus High.
Both former four-year starters on defense for the Golden Falcons, Lohman and Mottola have received much praise from their soccer mentors for their potential as coaches. As fall practice heats up, they are looking to take advantage of the rare opportunity they have been afforded.
'Motivated and upbeat'
Former Felician women's soccer coach Erin Fitzgerald recruited both Lohman and Mottola for the Golden Falcons. She says Lohman showed the characteristics of a successful coach early in her college career.
"Brittany was always a curious player," Fitzgerald said. "She would always ask questions and seek options as to how a situation could or should have gone differently. She is competitive and wants to win, but is also motivated and upbeat about soccer and will instill that in her players."
Lohman, a 2009 Felician graduate, credits Nutley High assistant Dave Caithness for fueling her passion and tactical and technical ability as a developing player. In college, however, her inspiration and her first opportunity to coach came from a unique source – Patrick Snyder, the Felician men's coach at the time. Snyder hired Lohman as a club coach, which led to eventually being tabbed by Wallington as a boys' assistant after graduation.
"Brittany always had a responsible and caring nature," said Snyder, now the head men's coach at New Jersey City University. "I wanted to encourage that. There are not enough female coaches in our game. I wanted to help her like my mentors had helped me. When she started coaching, you could see she had a good knack for conveying her knowledge to young players."
Lohman obtained an elementary special education teaching position at Gavlak School in Wallington, and an opening emerged on the boys' soccer staff. Wallington High director of athletics Jim Branick has no regrets about hiring her for that position or recommending her for her current coaching job.
"You don't see too many women coaching boys' JV soccer," Branick said. "There are always concerns on how the boys will react to a female coach, but that was never an issue with Brittany. Right from the start you could see that the players respected her. Brittany inspired the players to work hard in practice, play as a unit, and enjoy being on the soccer team. So once the Becton/Wallington head girls position became open, it was clear she was the best person for the job."
She is thankful for the chance.
"I feel extremely fortunate that I was given the opportunity to be a varsity coach at such a young age," Lohman said. "I'm grateful that the athletic community within my district was confident in my abilities and didn't let my age or lack of varsity experience be a deterrent. It was always my dream to teach and coach in the same district."
'Hard-nosed and coachable'
Mottola, who graduated from Felician in 2011, did not see coaching in her future when she left the Rutherford campus. But after helping with the Rutherford youth travel program, she landed the JV and assistant varsity girls position at The Dwight-Englewood School for the 2011 season.
"When I got the job at Dwight-Englewood, I knew coaching was something I wanted to stick with," Mottola said. "Their athletic director, Eli Goldberger, really pushed me to become a better coach."
Fitzgerald believes that, while coaching may not have always been in Mottola's blood, she could easily see Mottola having success in her new role.
"Amanda was a hard-nosed player who always gutted it out," Fitzgerald said. "She was also very coachable. She will teach her players to be tough and work hard."
Mottola was part of the growth of the Secaucus High program, as the team went from 0-18-1 her freshman year to reaching the state tournament as a senior. She continued to follow the program during her college years, and when the varsity position became open, she says a handful of her former administrators and teachers convinced her to apply and recommended her to new athletics director Charles Voorhees.
Apparently, Voorhees did not need much convincing.
"Amanda was one of the best student-athletes that ever graduated from Secaucus," he said. "She had the passion, dedication and work ethic that set her apart from the rest. We are lucky to have her as our coach."
While coaching the Patriots, Mottola is working part-time and pursuing a master's in sports administration at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She will not forget the lessons learned at Felician as she attempts to mold Secaucus into a winner.
"(Current Felician head coach) Tom Notte has influenced me the most when it comes to my coaching style. When I run practices now, I think back at how coach Tom ran practices. I try to keep the girls as competitive as possible but we also have fun. I feel very, very fortunate being given this opportunity and I hope to help Secaucus girls' soccer continue to grow for a long time."
The good and the bad of being young
Both coaches feel that their youth is helpful to them in many ways.
"I'm going to use my age to my advantage," Mottola said. "I can participate in all the drills, and we can all relate to each other because not too long ago, I was in their exact position.
Lohman thinks she can also relate to her players better off the field than an older coach could.
"They respect me and listen to me, but also aren't afraid to approach me with an issue they may be having," she said. "And I think my players are now open to a whole new window of opportunity. They know I'm proof that you can play a sport in college while getting your degree, finishing in four years, and getting a job. I speak highly of the Division II and III programs in our area that may be more realistic for them than some Division I powerhouse that was out of the question."
While Mottola does not see any challenges that being a young coach could bring, Lohman provides a cautionary tale.
"The biggest challenge I have encountered is not being taken seriously by your peers. I usually feel like I am quickly dismissed by older coaches, and I think opponents expect us to be unprepared or unaware of the fundamentals. As a young female I get a lot of looks of surprise from older coaches and officials when they find out that I'm the head coach."
Felician College is a coeducational, liberal arts, Catholic college, enrolling 2,300 students in undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the Arts and Sciences, Business and Management, Teacher Education, and Health Sciences and Nursing. A Division II member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Felician College competes in baseball, softball, soccer, basketball, cross-country, men's golf, women's volleyball, and cheerleading. Founded in 1942 by the Felician Sisters in the Franciscan tradition, Felician College is located on two campuses in Lodi and Rutherford, New Jersey.