November 24, 2017

Gold medalist Whitehill takes over girls soccer

Owen Zides '19, Sports Editor

With the soccer season now underway, new girls soccer coach, Cat Whitehill, looks to lead the Raiders back to the state tournament, all the while working as a color commentator for ESPN’s college soccer coverage throughout the fall on ESPNU and the SEC Network.

When the Washington Spirit traveled to play the Boston Breakers a few weeks ago, longtime soccer fans might have recognized a familiar voice on the live broadcast. Olympic gold medalist and former U.S. national team veteran Cat Whitehill, 35, had been one of the analysts for A+E Network’s NWSL Game of the Week. This was Whitehill’s first time providing color commentary for an NWSL game and she cannot wait to pick up the mic for future games, as she did an excellent job in her first one.

“I was so excited,” Whitehill said. “It was so fun to go back to the old stomping grounds again and see both of my former teams. It’s kind of funny.”

Since last suiting up for Team USA in 2010, Whitehill has been in the broadcast booth for several of soccer’s marquee events, including the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2012 Men’s and Women’s College Cups, as well as working as a sideline reporter for FOX Soccer Channel. This past week, Whitehill coached the Raiders in their game against Milton on Wednesday evening. 48 hours later, she called a game on ESPNU between No. 6 West Virginia and No. 20 Princeton from Morgantown.

Whitehill looks forward to helping the soccer team do as well as possible this upcoming season, as she looks for her first Massachusetts soccer state title.

During her professional soccer days, Whitehill played both for Washington—which was formerly known as the Freedom in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS)—and Boston when the NWSL launched in 2012. She had also been a defender for the national team for ten years, where she helped the U.S. win gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and played with legends like Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain. Whitehill was known for being one of the highest scoring defenders on the U.S. squad with 11 goals in 134 appearances, and she still holds the record for the longest shot ever scored in USWNT history when she launched a 70-yard kick against Sweden in 2006.

Throughout her playing career, Whitehill has seen all the ups and downs of women’s soccer from the sport’s boom since Team USA won the World Cup in 1999 to the folding of the WPS in 2012. In between training and games, she even got to fulfill another childhood dream of working in media.

“I’ve wanted to do it since I was in the 5th grade and watched Robin Roberts on ESPN,” she said. “I [originally] wanted to be a sideline reporter for college football because that was all there really was for women at the time. But now there are so many different opportunities it’s amazing.”

Now that Whitehill is on the sidelines, she’s been amazed at the momentum the NWSL has gained over the past five years. So far, it’s the longest standing women’s professional soccer league in American history and it’s only getting better, according to Whitehill.

“I think it’s at a really exciting stage,” she said. “It’s developing new talent for the U.S. team, it’s helping other talent from all of the world to come in and play in an extremely competitive league. Each club every year is looking to enhance and make people better. The development is going really fast.”

In the past year, the NWSL has taken great strides to get women’s soccer in front of as many people as possible to build brand awareness and excite more fans to get to the games. 

“The best thing about sports is you want to see it live,” she said. “Sometimes you’re not in a position where you can sit down in front of a TV so you might need it on a device. That’s where streaming comes in.

This year, Whitehill had the pleasure of commentating the 2017 EURO championship which garnered record breaking views via streaming platforms on ESPN and ESPN3. Those viewership numbers soared even before Denmark and the Netherlands clashed for a sold-out final. From her press box, Whitehill can see that women’s soccer is finally proving to major broadcasting stations that investing in the sport can create significant traffic for their companies.

“It’s exciting to see that there’s more and more interest,” she said.

Besides commentating, the 35-year-old is enjoying her soccer retirement, living in Boston and taking care of her two dogs named Izzy and Maeby. But Whitehill still misses being competitive and those cherished moments of huddling up with her teammates in the locker room. In June, she announced that she will be the head coach of the girls soccer program at Wellesley High School this fall, something that will allow her to stay in the game and help develop that next generation of female soccer players.

“It was something that I didn’t really pursue, but after I was the assistant coach of the Breakers last year, I really enjoyed being a part of the team atmosphere and getting to know the players,” she said. “It’s really important for all women to have that confidence about them. If there’s a way that I can help them to develop that, I definitely want to try. This will be a good time to see if I’m any good at coaching. Hopefully, I don’t fall flat on my face.”

Athletic Director, John Brown, had a different idea of how he thought the Cat would do for the High School team come this season saying, “she has a tremendous soccer background and will bring great knowledge, enthusiasm and passion to our program, but most importantly, she brings a strong desire to help other young women athletes succeed with what they are passionate about.”

Fortunately, during Saturday afternoon’s NWSL game, or on the sidelines at the next Wellesley High game Whitehill doesn’t have to worry about falling or her face. She just has to bring excitement to the sport she’s watched grow before her eyes. The team is currently 2-4-2 with one more game to play before the tournament.

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