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Nov. 18, 2009
Spartanburg, S.C. - After leading the turnaround of the women's soccer program both on the field and in the classroom at Lees-McRae College (Banner Elk, N.C.), Renee Lopez has been selected to do the same thing at USC Upstate as the nine-year coaching veteran has been hired as the Spartans' new head women's soccer coach, announced Director of Athletics Mike Hall today. Lopez will start her Upstate duties on Dec. 1.
"We are excited to get a coach with the experience and energy that Renee will bring to the position," said Hall. "She has proven that she can rebuild a program and we look forward to seeing her take the steps necessary to build a strong Division I program. She has a firm commitment to excellence, both in soccer and in academics. She has a strong respect from her peers as evidenced by being named the coach of the year in Conference Carolinas this season. I believe she will be a strong addition to our athletics department and possesses the leadership we need in our women's soccer program."
"I am very honored and excited to be able to take the position at Upstate," said Lopez. "From the moment I stepped foot on campus, I was definitely impressed with the Upstate staff and student population. It is a great place to build a program and I am excited to take the steps necessary to build the program into a contender in the Atlantic Sun."
"Renee brings with her to Upstate the drive and enthusiasm we need to turn our program around," said Louise Ericson, Associate Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator who also serves as the Sport Administrator for women's soccer. "Her commitment to academic success and student-athlete personal development is unmatched. I strongly believe she will make an immediate impact in our athletics program."
Lopez served as the head coach at Lees-McRae for the last five years. The Bobcats were coming off of a 4-14-1 overall mark and a 2-6-2 conference record in Conference Carolinas in 2004 when she was hired to take over the program in June of 2005, just two months before the start of the season. In five short years, she elevated the program to back-to-back 11-win seasons in 2008 and 2009.
Lopez earned Conference Carolinas Coach of the Year honors this year after leading the Bobcats to an 11-8-1 overall record and a 7-4-0 mark and fifth-place finish in the league. The 7-4-0 record in conference play marked the first year since 2003 that Lees-McRae posted a winning record in the league. In addition, four Bobcats earned all-conference honors, ending a two-year drought without having a selection and the most since 2003, two seasons prior to her start with the program. Lopez also had one player earn All-Tournament honors at the Conference Carolinas Tournament, as well as a Daktronics D-II All-Region selection.
Lopez's 2009 Bobcats also established themselves on a national and regional basis. Vickie Rich ranked among the nation's leaders and in the top 15 for goals per game (13th) and points per game (12th).
Lopez, who also served as Lees-McRae's compliance coordinator from 2008-09, coached the Bobcats to three wins in her first season at the helm of the Lees-McRae program while establishing the tone for the rebuilding of the program. She improved the team consistency the next two seasons with six and five wins, respectively, in 2006 and 2007. Her breakthrough year came in 2008 when the Bobcats tallied an 11-9-0 overall record to post the most wins since the 2003 squad won 14 games en route to earning a top-10 regional ranking. The success she built in 2008 carried over to this season when she led Lees-McRae to another 11-win season and earned league coach of the year honors.
While her success is building the Lees-McRae program back to prominence on the field was solid, she also established a tradition of building academic success in the women's soccer program as well. When she took over the program in 2005, the women's soccer team posted a team GPA of 2.8. The 2008-09 Bobcats increased the team GPA to 3.4, marking a tremendous improvement both on the field and, more importantly, in the classroom. The program received All-Academic Team honors from the NSCAA in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
"The commitment to academics is my first priority," said Lopez. "I want to make sure our kids graduate while building the program to be a major contender in the A-Sun. The resources of the athletics staff at Upstate made the decision a very easy one. I believe I can build a program with the support involved and look forward to the challenges that lie ahead."
Lopez, a native of Rockford, Ill., earned Athlete of the Week honors at Benedictine College (Ill.) in 1997 prior to suffering a series of ankle injuries which ended her collegiate playing career. She transferred to Bradley University where she remained active in soccer as a player on the women's club team, serving as a team captain and President of the club. While at Bradley, she received her first coaching position as the head girls' soccer coach at Manual High School in Peoria, Ill., from 2000-02. She also served as the Director of Coaching for the Morton Blaze Soccer Club from 2001-02 and was the organization's head coach of the U-14 Girls squad from 2000-02.
Lopez received a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education with a concentration in Psychology and Learning Disabilities from Bradley in 2001. She graduated cum laude with a 3.59 overall GPA and a 3.81 GPA in her major. She attended graduate school at the University of Florida from 2002-04, graduating with a Master of Science degree in Exercise and Sport Science in 2004. While at Florida, she served as a graduate assistant coach on the women's soccer team. The Gators were nationally-ranked both seasons, won a share of the SEC championship in 2003 and advanced to the Elite 8 of the 2003 NCAA Tournament.
Lopez has been active in leadership roles within the coaching community. She is a member of the NSCAA and received the association's Regional Goalkeeping diploma. She also has earned the United States Soccer Federation "C" License. She has served as the Chair of the Conference Carolinas Women's Soccer coaches organization, as a member of the NSCAA regional ranking committee and as an NCAA Regional Site Coordinator for the NCAA D-II Tournament. She is a graduate of the NCAA Women's Coaching Academy and served as an NSCAA Coaching Mentor. Locally at Lees-McRae, she was a co-founder of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and was a Leadership Academy Director for the athletics department, while also spearheading several community service and fundraising projects for the women's soccer program.
"I think my first step is to meet the current team and address our needs for 2010," said Lopez. "I want to get out on the recruiting trail to start the rebuilding process. I need to catch up on how things are done on the Division I level, meet with the athletic staff and address the immediate needs of our current players. I want to see where we stand from an academic standpoint, start work on our strength and conditioning program, and assess our general soccer needs."