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Catching Up With Former Soccer Player, Jeff Negalha

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Jeff Negalha coached at USC Spartanburg from 1999-2002, before the University was changed to USC Upstate.

Jeff Negalha coached at USC Spartanburg from 1999-2002, before the University was changed to USC Upstate.

Oct. 22, 2008

SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Jeff Negalha, who is now an assistant coach at UNC Chapel Hill, was a two-year starter in goal for the former USCS and led the Rifles to the NCAA quarterfinal round in 1997 and the NCAA national championship in 1998. In his two-year career at USCS, Negalha started 47 games and recorded 19.5 shutouts while allowing just 33 goals through nearly 3,900 minutes. He also helped the Rifles win two Peach Belt regular season championships and two conference tournament titles.

Following his playing days, Negalha was an assistant coach at USCS from 1999-2002, helping to guide the Rifles to an NCAA Division II Elite Eight appearance and a No. 5 national ranking in the final poll of 2002. He also helped recruit and coach the Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year in both 2002 and 2003, as well as the league's freshman of the year in 2002.

"Jeff was a very good goalkeeper who played with a significant amout of passion and emotion," said USC Upstate's current head soccer coach, Greg Hooks. "He played on some of our most successful teams, and was a key contributor to these teams' accomplishments.

"He was also an outstanding assistant coach, and was instrumental in the soccer program's continued success following his playing career. Most importantly, Jeff was and continues to be loyal to the University, the soccer program, and to me. I am very proud of how well he has done since leaving USC Upstate, and know that he is proud to have been a part of our program."

After leaving Upstate, Negalha then spent time as an assistant coach at South Florida before being hired at UNC. He is currently in his fourth year as an assistant coach with the North Carolina men's soccer program. He was recognized by College Soccer News as one of the "20 Top Assistant Coaches of 2006." Among his other accolades, Negalha helped the Carolina goalkeepers combine for a school-record 15 shutouts in 2005. Justin Hughes, the Tar Heels goalie at the time, led the ACC with a .50 goals against average and was eventually selected by the Colorado Rapids in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft.

Today, in addition to his current assistant position in Chapel Hill with the Tar Heels, Negalha serves as the Director of Goalkeeping and staff coach for the Triangle United Soccer Association.

What attracted you to Spartanburg, S.C., from NJCAA national power Massasoit Community (Mass.) College? Were there any noticeable differences in the style of play between the North and the South?
In 1995 our Massasoit team took a pre-season trip to the Carolina's. During our stay, we trained and played at the University on old "Rifle Field". While we were visiting, we watched the `95 USC Spartanburg team and they were very good. They advanced to the Division II National Championship that year. I remember enjoying the University setting and the southern hospitality, but I never really thought about moving down south and away from my "comfort zone" at home. During my year off in '96, I was approached by Paul McDonough (former assistant). After lengthy discussions with my family, Paul, Donn Heikkila (former assistant coach at Massasoit), and Coach Hooks, I was convinced that USC Spartanburg would be a good fit, and for that I am grateful. I was going to get a degree from a reputable university and the soccer program would give me an opportunity to compete for a national championship.

I didn't notice any differences in the style of play, however, the option to play outdoors year round was intriguing.

How would you compare your experiences competing in the national semifinal and quarterfinal appearances at Massasoit Community College with the NCAA quarterfinals and NCAA national championship game at former USC Spartanburg?
Both were very rewarding experiences. I played with, and against some very good players. Both teams had good camaraderie. In the end, we fell short of winning the big one, but I'm proud to say that we worked hard and I enjoyed every step of the way.

Is there anything that you started to realize and view differently as a coach at USC Upstate than what you experienced as a player?
As a coach, I started to realize the importance of daily operations involved in a program that was highly regarded. I started to identify the significance in a vision that is necessary for success with academic progress, development on and off the field, visibility in the community, alumni, and relationships on and off campus. As a player, I always understood the importance of our men's soccer program, but until you're on the "other side," you don't really understand all the details in running a program on a daily basis.

What did you study at the former USC Spartanburg?
I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a concentration in Physical Education.

Is it more thrilling to see success and post-season appearances as a coach or as a player?
I think it's thrilling both as a player and coach. You work hard together to achieve winning results. Of course, it's great to be on the field playing, but there is also great satisfaction in helping your team on the sidelines and watching your players achieve success for all the work they have put in throughout the year.

Did you have a soccer hero growing up or do you have one currently?
I enjoyed watching a lot of top professional players growing up. I respected the talents and abilities of players like Baggio and Maldini of Italy, Maradonna of Argentina, Kopke from Germany, and Silvino from Portugal. All were outstanding professionals. My brother, Danny, was also fun to watch. He was a very clever and highly competitive player.

After the 2006 season at UNC, you were recognized by College Soccer News as one of the "20 Top Assistant Coaches of 2006." What did this honor mean to you and did it make you more confident in your abilities?
It's an honor to be recognized on a list of very competent assistants from quality programs. I've always been confident in my abilities as a person and coach. I know how I want to do things, and how the game should be played. Ultimately, I don't look for recognition or validation. I just concentrate on doing the best job possible to ensure a successful team and program. Fortunately, I've been involved with very good people throughout my coaching career which has helped me to strengthen my abilities.

In 2004, you attracted the nation's No. 3 class according to College Soccer News and the No. 5 class according to Soccer America. Would you view your recruiting style as more aggressive or more passive? Additionally, are there certain qualities you look for in athletes aside from talent specifically?
I'm aggressive in terms of making sure I am thorough on what the university and soccer program can provide. I want the prospective student-athlete and his family to understand our level of interest. Of course talent is very important, however, there needs to be a balance amongst athleticism, education, and character.

What is the most important advice you give to your goalkeepers?
KEEP THE BALL OUT OF THE NET! Additional advice I would give to our student-athletes would be for them to give 100% every day, be competitive, work hard, and have a good attitude.

Do you think that being an assistant coach at three different successful soccer programs has expanded your knowledge and understanding of the sport? Do you stay loyal to each team?
I've had some great experiences that have enhanced my coaching profession. Each program brings a unique perspective to the game with interesting methods. I've enjoyed the learning experiences which ultimately has assisted my philosophies on moving forward. At this stage in my career, I feel fortunate to be working at the University of North Carolina. I continue to learn next to one of the best coaches in the country surrounded by great student-athletes, staff and administration. I do constantly track each team's progress throughout the year, and push for them to have success..... unless they play UNC.

Do you plan on being involved with soccer for the long run?
Absolutely. I thrive on the competition and working with quality student-athletes in a college environment. My objective is to become a college head coach.

How do you like to spend your time away from the soccer field?
Watching soccer on television. I also enjoy relaxing with family and friends. I'm a big fan of the water so when I can, I like to visit the beach or a lake.

There has always been the debate of the importance of offense and defense. As an instructor for keepers, do you believe a team can benefit on the field more from a stronger offense or a stronger defense?
I believe both play an important role for success. Collectively it takes defense and offense to win games. If you play together as a team, play hard and smart on both sides of the ball, you can have something special.

USC Upstate Men's Soccer
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