Architect. Legend. Pioneer: these three words are synonymous with the name Bill Hempen in the collegiate soccer community, but the word Hempen takes the most pride in is teacher.
After 25 years of coaching, 278 wins, 10 All-Americans and two national championship appearances, the legend is back doing what he loves: teaching the game of soccer. For a man with the coaching pedigree of Hempen, it may come as a surprise that he chose to take over a first-year women’s program at Colorado State in February.
But the opportunity to remain in the state of Colorado and build a program from the ground level was too good to pass up. When he left the University of Colorado program in 2011 after leading the Buffs to the 2003 Big 12 Championship and six NCAA Tournament appearances in 11 years, Hempen was still hungry to coach.
When CSU fielded a Division I soccer team for the first time in its history, Hempen had found his next stop.
“Whether it’s coaching at Stanford or at Colorado State, when you strip away all the other stuff, it still comes down to teaching the game of soccer,” Hempen said. “But this really gave me the opportunity to have an impact on these kids’ lives. I wasn’t looking to start at the top, I’ve always liked teaching the game and I’m really enjoying this.”
Hempen began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Northeast Louisiana in 1982 before joining the Centenary College staff as a full-time assistant coach the next year. After three years Hempen moved into the ranks of Division I soccer, accepting an assistant coaching position for the Duke University men’s program, helping lead the Blue Devils to the 1986 national championship.
In 1988, Duke added its first-ever women’s soccer program and Hempen was tabbed as their first coach. In 13 years at the helm, Hempen coached Duke to more than 160 wins while producing seven All-Americans and appearing in eight NCAA Tournaments and a trip to the national championship game in 1992. After leaving Duke, Hempen moved his family to Colorado and took over the struggling women’s soccer program at CU-Boulder. Prior to his arrival in 2001, the Buffs had never produced a winning season.
After a first season where his team went 3-11-1, Hempen’s Buffs posted a 10-8-2 record in 2002, marking the biggest single-season turnaround in Big 12 Conference history. After winning 114 games in 10 seasons at CU and producing three more All-Americans, he stepped away from the only profession he’d ever known to spend more time with his young family.
But the 17th winningest coach in NCAA history couldn’t find anything to quell the competitive fire that still burned inside him.
“I knew I wanted to coach again at the college level, but that time away was a great chance for me to go back to my roots at the high school level and teach the game again,” Hempen said.
After a year as the Director of Soccer and head coach for both the boys and girls high school teams at Alexander Dawson High School, Hempen got his chance at the college level when CSU elevated women’s soccer to the Division I level.
While the Rams have struggled in their first season, posting a 2-11-2 record, Hempen has praised his team’s effort and continued improvement in what has been a frustrating season at times. Players like standout defender Jami Vaughn, a transfer from Kansas, believe that Hempen’s patience, as well as his knowledge of the game and experience with building programs has paid huge dividends for them so far this year.
“His impact on us has been huge. He’s been so patient with us and the improvement from the preseason to now has been pretty incredible. He knows what it’s like to start a program from scratch and he knows what to expect from a first-year team like this,” junior Jami Vaughn said.
As Hempen and his squad look forward to their final three games of this season and into the future of Colorado State soccer, players and coaches alike believe there are big things in store for this program. Even though there were no true expectations for the Rams in their first year, no one around this program is shying away from the thought of this team competing for the Mountain West championship and into the NCAA Tournament in the near future with Hempen at the helm.
“He’s a great coach and he knows what he’s doing. He’s obviously had success everywhere else he’s been and I think with some time we’ll be on the right track for that kind of success,” sophomore forward Erika Bratschun said.
For now Hempen relishes the opportunity to be back where he belongs, teaching the game of soccer and making lasting impacts on the life of his players. After more than a quarter-century of coaching, the driving force behind his love for the game is simply seeing all the teaching he has done finally come together and click for his team.
“I’m always searching for that moment when you see everything you’ve worked on from the preseason until now, and you finally see it all work. We’ll look at where we started from this August until our final game next weekend. That’s three months of teaching, coaching and time that we’ve put in and I think these kids will be surprised at how far they’ve actually come,” Hempen said.
But for one of the legends of collegiate soccer, it simply feels good to be home.
Women’s Soccer Beat Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.