Avon High coach Jim Murray talks to his team before a night game at Avon High. Murray was named the 2009 national girls soccer coach of the year by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.
AVON, Oct. 31 – It had been six years since the Avon High girls soccer team earned a spot in a CIAC state championship game. However, on a cool afternoon last November, the Falcons were there playing New Canaan for the Class L championship at Waterbury’s Municipal Stadium.
It had been a bit of a fairy tale for the Falcons, who won eight straight games to earn an opportunity to play for a state championship. Four wins came in the Class L tournament with one-goal victories over defending champion Wilton, the 2008 runner-up (Joel Barlow) and two teams that were undefeated entering the tournament (Berlin and RHAM).
In the final, the bubble burst and New Canaan prevailed, winning 1-0 on a head ball with about 20 minutes left in regulation.
Avon’s long-time coach Jim Murray was emotional afterwards and insisted that a team photo with the runner-up trophy be taken immediately after the game.
“I can’t ask any more of them,” he said. “We’re going to take a group photo with this trophy because it is like first place for us. We worked so hard to get here. Not many teams make it to the finals like we did. I’m so proud of the way we played.”
A few months later, Murray reflected on the 2009 squad. “They really came together as a team,” he said. “They always seemed to overcome. They were a great example of perseverance and trying to be the best we can be as a team and as individuals.”
Win or lose, it is what Murray and his coaching staff try to get out of each team.
That drive for excellence and growth has fueled Murray’s success as a coach at Avon over the past 25 years. This summer, Murray was recognized as the national soccer coach of the year by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association.
His resume is impressive. This is his 25th season and he entered the CIAC Class L tournament with a career record of 332-96-34. Under his leadership, Avon has won three straight Class M titles (2001-03) and six NCCC titles. The Falcons have gone to the finals six times and had a 64-game unbeaten streak (61-0-3) from 2001-03.
For this algebra and math teacher, it’s not all about the numbers.
“The teaching and coaching go hand-in-hand. You work with the kids in the classroom and on the playing field. It’s a privilege… almost a dream job,” he said.
Murray didn’t play soccer as a youngster. Lacrosse was his passion. His family moved to Stamford, Conn., when he was a high school sophomore and he played lacrosse at the now-closed Rippowam High School.
His love for soccer blossomed in the early 1980s at the University of Connecticut. At the time, soccer was a huge event on campus under legendary coach Joseph Morrone. The Huskies were perennial contenders for the national championship, winning the NCAA title in 1981 and making the semifinals the next two years.
Once he arrived in Avon, he began to contribute as a coach. Over the years, he has served as an assistant coach with the track, boys basketball and boys soccer teams. He was an also assistant with the fledging girls soccer program and in 1986, Murray took over the squad, which was in its third varsity season.
He has also coached lacrosse and youth basketball in Farmington where Murray and his wife, Erin, have raised two daughters and a son.
Coaching Avon can be a challenge. Hundreds of girls play soccer each year beginning with the Avon Youth Soccer program and then regional club teams. The competition is intense and sometimes, the expectations of the parents are high.
“It’s challenging in every community,” Murray said. “Every parent wants what best for their child and as a parent I understand that. We all want what is best for the kids. We try to find a spot for every kid to participate so they can grow as individuals and as athletes.”
The goal is to give players some time in every game. In some very competitive games, that playing time can be a bit tougher to get. But there are plenty of opportunities in a 16-game season. “We try to find a spot for every kid to participate so they can grow as individuals and as athletes,” Murray said.
Junior varsity coach Jeanine LeBrosse has been coaching with Murray for over 15 years. Freshman coach Andy Shayler has been part of the staff for several years, too.
“He has more experience than anyone out there because he has been in the situation before,” LeBrosse said. “He’s calm and that is reflected in our play on the field. It helps keep their head in the game.”
That calmness comes from experience and preparation. “You always want to be prepared,” Murray said. “Mental and physical preparation are so important. You can never overlook an opponent.”
LeBrosse said Murray does his homework. He knows the coach of the opposing team and who their top players are. He knows most of the officials by name. He knows what his team will be facing.
Murray has also been advocate for girls soccer in Connecticut. He was one of the founding members that helped organize the Connecticut Girls Soccer Coaches Association in the early 1980s. The CGSCA recognizes All-State players, hosts a Senior All-Star Game and provides scholarships for athletes. Murray has served as the CGSCA treasurer for the past 15 years.
“Connecticut has a great soccer tradition,” he said. “There are so many things to be proud of in our state.”
At Avon, they are proud of Murray. “This (national coach of the year) award is for the whole school and the whole town,” he said modestly.
By the numbers
In Murray’s 25 year tenure, the Avon High girls soccer team has been very successful.
- NCCC championships (6): 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2008
- Class M state champions (3): 2001, 2002, 2003
- Class M finalists (2): 1990, 2000
- Class L finalists (1): 2009
- Undefeated season: 2001 (20-0)
- Connecticut Soccer Coach of the Year (2): 1993, 2002
- Team Sportsmanship award: 1996
- Unbeaten streak: 64 games (61-0-3) from 2001-04
WVIT-30, Oct. 14: Murray wins national coach of the year honors