Quarter century of kicking it: Soccer program celebrates 25th anniversary


Cameron Shendenhelm, who led the soccer program in goals last season, makes a move on the ball during a Kent State soccer game in October 2021. 

John Hilber, Reporter

In 1997, Colleen Marcum faced a tough task: leading Kent State’s first-ever varsity women’s soccer team.

Before the creation of the varsity team, the university only offered a club soccer team that lacked any university funding. This season, which ended in late October, the Flashes celebrated their 25th anniversary.

“Starting the program from scratch was very much unique,” said Marcum, who coached at Kent State until 2000. “It was still very challenging, but Kent State just opened the doors.”

Kent State’s variety soccer program poses for its first team picture. (Courtesy of Colleen Marcum)

Marcum and her then-assistant coach Rob Marinaro have been the team’s only two head coaches. Marinaro took over in 2001.

In those 25 years, Kent State’s soccer program has:

  • Won three Mid-American Conference regular season championships – in 2003, 2004 and 2007
  • Earned three MAC East championships, one in 2011, 2016 and 2017
  • Clinched one MAC tournament championship in 2016
  • Appeared in the first round of NCAA tournament in 2016

This season, the soccer team tied for sixth place in the MAC at 4-2-5, just shy of a championship appearance. The Flashes went 4-7-7 overall.

“We do things to be successful and to create those situations, and I have been very fortunate with all the great people that I’ve gotten to work with that have been a part of our program,” Marinaro said. “To see the success that this program has had is something that is a wonderful feeling, and we will look to continue to grow that even further.”

The pre-varsity option

Before Kent State had a varsity soccer program, the university only had a club team which did not receive university funding or offer scholarship opportunities.

When Megan McDonough came to Kent as a freshman in 1994, she found her sport wasn’t even promoted.

“I almost didn’t go to Kent because from what I knew Kent didn’t have soccer,” said McDonough, a high school soccer athlete. “On the first orientation day, representatives talked about all the different clubs that were offered, and Kent did not advertise that they had a soccer program.”

In 1996, members of the soccer club proposed a plan to create a varsity team to Athletic Director Laing Kennedy. McDonough was one of four students asked to present the proposal.

“There was a really strong women’s club team on campus, and they were very competitive and very good,” Marcum said. “They had decided that they wanted to represent and go appeal to the athletics department. And these girls were smart young women. They put together a plan and had written up the documentation of stats, and they had presented it to the athletic department.”

Kennedy approved the proposal, and a varsity team was added to the athletic department for the 1997 season.

Colleen Marcum was the soccer program’s first head coach. She held the position for four seasons.

Before coming to Kent State, Marcum played and coached women’s soccer in Australia from 1986-1989. She then coached at Robert Morris from 1994-1996.

When Marcum became head coach of the Flashes in 1996, she found that AD Kennedy was “so ahead of the game” in terms of support and direction for the program.

“One of the things he mentioned to me is, ‘If I’m going to buy jockstraps for the men’s football team, I’m going to buy sports bras for the women’s soccer team,’” she said. “That was so unheard of at that time.”

The varsity life

Kent State women’s soccer joined the Mid-American Conference, which consisted of seven soccer teams in the first year. Only three scholarships were offered for a team of about 25 players.

From 1997 on, the women felt the varsity treatment.

“We paid for everything [for club],” McDonough, one of the team’s first captains, said. “We would have to drive the whole team down to Miami or Ohio State. To get a charter bus and have our own bags and have people wash our clothes and the equipment – we were completely spoiled.”

In its first season, Kent State finished with a 3-14-2 record and went 1-5-1 in MAC play. Their first win as a program was on Sep. 20 where they beat Miami 2-1.

Marcum said there were less than 100 Division I women’s soccer teams when she came to Kent State.

By 1999, popularity and support for the sport increased at the collegiate level.

“Schools were begging and taking female athletes and female soccer players and turning them into coaches,” Marcum said.

In her final season in 2000, Marcum had compiled a 34-38-4 record overall and a 15-22-2 conference record. The team’s best finish in the conference was in 1998, when the Flashes went 13-7-1 overall and 5-4-1 in the MAC.

McDonough described Marcum as “the hard” coach.

“She was the more militant kind of coach, the one with lots of structure and leads and has lots of high expectations – very high expectations,” she said. “But players can credit her now for pushing them to where they can achieve goals.”

By the time she left Kent State, Marcum said NCAA women’s soccer grew intensely. At Kent State, 12 scholarships were offered to players.

“The growth was intense, and it was quick,” Marcum said. “By the time I left in 2001, there were over 300 programs.”

The Rob Marinaro days

Rob Marinaro, who was Marcum’s assistant coach during her entire tenure, became head coach of the program in 2001. He has led the program for the last 21 seasons.

Marinaro played with the National Professional Soccer League, a semi-professional indoor soccer league, for five seasons. He coached for the Ohio State North team with the Olympic Development Program.

Rob Marinaro has coached Kent State’s soccer team since 2001. (Courtesy of Kent State Athletics)

“I was in Cleveland playing indoor soccer, and one of my teammates let me know that there was an opening at Kent State,” Marinaro said. “What they were looking for was what I had in my background, so I applied and was impressed with everything that the school wanted to do in order to start a women’s soccer program, and I was fortunate enough to get the position.”

During the early years of the team, Marinaro’s predecessor said he created “a great balance” within the coaching staff.

“We were young, and he brought a lot of calmness to my hyperness and outgoingness,” Marcum said. “He’s a little more reserved and more introverted as opposed to me. He’s always on time and his diligence, his integrity, his knowledge of the game coming from a deep soccer family was a blessing.”

The current coach has a 200-165-52 record. He has been named MAC coach of the year three times.

After 25 years of coaching at Kent State, Marinaro said it’s still not all about winning. He sees running a successful program as “a daily process.”

“I have a wonderful group of student athletes and coaches that work towards that every single day,” Marinaro said. “We try to stay away from the outcome goals, but rather to live things every single day and to have that in mind. That’s always the ultimate goal, but it’s a lot more about just getting better every single day.”

John Hilber is a reporter. Contact him at [email protected].