Former captain adjusts to coaching role

MacKenzie Misel stays behind to help coach the players who don’t travel.

Ben Gotz

Instead of leaving the Gophers soccer program after graduating last spring, MacKenzie Misel
exchanged her title of captain for coach.

Misel, now a volunteer assistant coach, trains players who don’t travel with the team to road games. While she admits the transition wasn’t easy, Misel said she enjoys helping out the team in her new role.

Senior captain Katie Thyken said having a former player and teammate as a coach is helpful, and Misel offers valuable advice due to her experience.

“It’s awesome because you know that [former players] gave everything, so you listen to them and … they know what they’re talking about,” she said. “They’ve gone through everything that you’ve gone through.”

Even before she received the coaching position, Misel was planning to stay at the University of Minnesota this year and work towards her master’s degree in elementary education.

Since she was going to stay on campus anyway, Misel said sticking with the team seemed like a great idea.

“Being around and being on campus and not being a part of it would have been difficult,” Misel said. “You want to celebrate with them and enjoy some successes and even some failures throughout the season.”

Misel said older players helped her during her college career and she wanted to return the favor by serving as a mentor.

“It really is nice to have a teammate that you played with come around, even if they’re not there all the time,” Misel said.

Due to Misel’s schedule, she’s not training with the team every day. She alternates spending two weeks at the University and two weeks at an elementary school in Columbia Heights working with second-graders.

Some of the skills Misel has learned in the classroom have helped her think outside of the box, which is a benefit considering that her job is one that comes with more than a few challenges.

For example, Misel works with only a few players each practice, some of whom stay behind due to injuries.

“Nobody likes to stay home when a team is on the road,” Misel said. “But I try to create a fun, hardworking environment. … I don’t really like my players to dwell on the fact that they’re home. When they come to soccer, I want to be engaging.”

During one training session a couple of weeks ago, she said the team was “down in the dumps,” but Misel improved the situation by engaging the players in a game she played with her second graders, called “Coconut.”

“It was just funny, because when I was explaining it, they were just like, ‘Oh my gosh, Mac,’” Misel said. “But once they started playing it, they were laughing and having a good time.”

Misel oversaw plenty of training this season, considering the Gophers were on the road for eight of their first 11 games of the season.

Now, with the team home for six of its last eight games, the rest of the coaching staff will get a chance to witness the effects of Misel’s coaching labor.

“Hopefully we’re going to see [the extra work] pay off for some of the ones who haven’t traveled — to put themselves in a position to compete for those traveling roster spots,” head coach Stefanie Golan said. “[Misel has] done a great job.”

In the end, Misel said she is just happy she’s able to stick with the sport and team she loves.

“I’ve had a lot of fun. Our coaching staff is awesome. I’m grateful that they let me help out,” Misel said. “I’m really happy to still be a Gopher and a coach.”