Working to Build a Championship Contender

Working to Build a Championship Contender

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – As a kid growing up on the Jersey Shore, Ken Masuhr never imagined this.

He loved soccer, so playing in college and staying involved with the game as long as possible? Sure. Potentially coaching one day? Maybe. But living and working in a bustling city like Miami? That seemed unlikely.

But now, two months into his tenure as the Hurricanes’ new head soccer coach, he can’t imagine an opportunity as remarkable as the one he now has.

“It’s funny. I was just texting with a friend this morning about how I never thought I wanted to live in a major city and in the past 15 years, I’ve lived in Philly, Nashville and now Miami,” Masuhr chuckled. “For a kid from the beach on the Jersey Shore branching out and doing something that’s a little unknown is exciting. … When the job came open, it was one of the very few schools that I was really excited about because of the potential here.

“You see the history of what Miami has been athletically, across the board and everyone wonders why can’t women’s soccer do the same thing? Hopefully, here, we’re going to put ourselves on a pathway to get where the University, the fans and the administration believe this place can be for women’s soccer.”

Masuhr and the Hurricanes have been making their way through offseason winter workouts for several weeks and will have one of their first opportunities to truly start on that pathway Friday when Miami travels to FAU to kick off a five-game spring slate against South Florida foes.

Understandably, the first-year coach is eager to see how his team responds to the challenge, not just Friday, but in the weeks and months to come before the fall season.

“This time is huge. Normally, in the spring, you focus on individual development a lot more than team development. But in our unique situation, anytime you have a shock of change, you have to kind of break things down to the very foundations and start from there,” said Masuhr, who was named Miami’s new coach in early December. “We have the unique challenge of building and helping these young ladies get to their own individual goals while also trying to put in team playing styles …

“The girls are great with each other. The camaraderie among the group is fantastic. But the culture, and the piece we’re trying to inject, is a competitive mindset, where losing is just not something we’re going to accept. Even something as simple as a team bonding [event], we made that competitive within the teams. … And throughout the spring, we’re going to continue to foster that type of stuff every single chance that we get.”

Masuhr, a veteran coach and a former player himself at both Rutgers and Richard Stockton College, understands competition well.

Before coming to Miami, he was the associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at Vanderbilt, where the Commodores earned five NCAA Tournament berths, won the SEC regular championship in 2018, an SEC East Division title in 2019 and an SEC Tournament championship in 2020.

During his nine-year tenure on the staff of head coach Darren Ambrose, the Commodores also defeated 16 ranked teams after Vanderbilt had registered just eight wins over ranked teams in program history before the coaches arrived in 2015.

Prior to their work together at Vanderbilt, Ambrose and Masuhr coached at the University of Pennsylvania for four years where the Quakers never allowed more than 19 goals per season and where they led the nation in shutout percentage in 2011.

During his time as an assistant coach, Masuhr emerged as a defensive specialist and a talented recruiter, skills he hopes will make a difference as he looks to help the Hurricanes become a consistent force in the ACC, one of the nation’s top women’s soccer conferences.

“We open with FAU on the 23rd and one of the sentiments that the girls mentioned to me is ‘We want to shock people in what we’ve done over the last month and a half,’” Masuhr said. “I know what the standard is being in the ACC and the level in South Florida. But at the same time, we want to show people it’s not the same old school, not the same old Miami that everyone’s used to. These girls are wearing that as a chip on their shoulder and that’s really fun to see from them, too.”

To prepare for that match – and the months beyond it – Masuhr and his staff have worked to try and make sure the Hurricanes are playing with energy and competition, with a focus on the work rate the Hurricanes are putting forth on the field.

Those three elements, along with some heart-to-heart conversations, will go a long way in helping the Hurricanes become the team they want to be, Masuhr said.

“If they can bring those three things every single day to training, then we can help them become better soccer players,” the coach said. “And then, from the soccer-playing perspective, can we play on the front foot and forward and be mindful about attacking? And being super technically competent? Basically, holding them to a standard and holding them accountable.

“I think the biggest thing that they’re finding is that it’s okay to hold your teammates accountable for the standard that we’re trying to set and when someone does that for you, it’s not a personal attack. It’s ‘Hey, we want to do this together and here’s how you can help me do my job better and please let me know how I can help you do your job better.’ A lot of those conversations are really in their infancy right now, but we’re trying to help them have those interactions in a healthy way.”

While Masuhr is hoping to help the Hurricanes’ soccer program make history at Miami, he comes to Coral Gables having already made an impact on not just the soccer program at Vanderbilt, but the football program there, too.

In 2020, former Vanderbilt goalkeeper Sarah Fuller became the first woman to compete in a Power 5 football game when she stepped in as a kicker for the short-handed Commodores during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Masuhr had a hand in helping Fuller connect with the football team ahead of her history and memory-making moment.

It was an experience the coach has not forgotten – and one he says highlighted the best of college athletics.

“During COVID, there weren’t many people on campus except for the athletes and coaches and we were all just ‘How can we help each other? How can we make our sports work?’ because if you remember, if one sport went down, the whole athletic department could have gone,” Masuhr said. “It was really a time where we all banded together and really just fought for keeping our programs alive.

“I don’t know if they had kickers [available] or not, but I just thought, ‘Okay, they need us? How can we best help them?’ I don’t think that’s lost on people in athletics overall. Even since I’ve been here, the number of coaches that have come in and been like ‘How can I help you? What do you need? Can I help you navigate anything?’ has been really, really awesome.”

That support has not only helped Masuhr feel welcome at Miami, but even more determined to help make sure the Hurricanes succeed, across the board.

“I want to build championships here and I want players that compete at that level every single day. Whether or not we attain them, that’s something different. But we’re going to train like champions every single day and hopefully, the championships follow down the road,” Masuhr said. “For the next spring and fall, I want players here that are willing to compete and are willing to take an idea that we have coming in here and run with it on their own and see how far that idea takes us. With recruiting, we’ll bring players in, and different folks will wear ‘The U’ down the road. But right now, it’s about waking up every single day, competing and trying to make ourselves one percent better every single day that everybody talks about.”