When the U.S. Military Academy was looking for a coach in the mid 1980s to lead its women's soccer club program, it turned to a local and successful high school coach, Gene Ventriglia. The SUNY New Paltz grad with international playing experience was hand-picked to perform the daunting task of developing a program from scratch into a winning and respectable varsity squad at one of the most demanding institutions in the country.
West Point could not have found a better coach for that unique challenge. Today, 20 years later, the only mentor Army's women's soccer club has ever known, has distinguished himself, and the program that he began, into a regional power. Ranked among the nation's coaching leaders in all-time wins, he heads into the 2005 season with a career winning percentage of .625 (227-132-20). That mark ranks 41st among the Division I coaching fraternity, while his 227 wins stands 16th.
Under his direction, the Black Knights have enjoyed success in the Patriot League, winning one postseason crown and capturing four regular-season titles. Army has received four ECAC Tournament bids and advanced past the first round three times. The Black Knights have consistently ranked among the top schools in the Northeast since its inception in 1986.
The Academy's longest tenured head coach on staff in the athletic department, Ventriglia built Army's program from the ground up. He moved with it from the club ranks to the varsity level (Division II) in 1986, and four years later, to Division I as a member of the newly formed Patriot League. His team captured back-to-back regular-season titles following identical 5-0 marks in 1991 and 1992, shared the crown in 1993, and recaptured it again in 2002. In 1991, the league went to a postseason tournament format and the Black Knights, who have advanced to the championship finals in seven of 15 seasons, claimed the title in 1993.
Revered among the coaching fraternity in both the Patriot League and across the country, Ventriglia has been tabbed five times for "Coach of the Year" honors with his latest recognition coming in 2002. The affable Army mentor has also enjoyed prominence in the Northeast Region where Army has consistently ranked among the elite programs.
The success Ventriglia enjoyed his first season (9-3-1, 1985), when Army was still a club team, was instrumental in the team's rise to the varsity ranks the following year. The tougher collegiate schedule didn't daunt him as he guided his squad to a 9-6-3 mark in Army's introduction to Division II competition.
The "father of Army women's soccer " and an energetic mentor first molded the booters into a top Division II squad, then took it a step higher as an up-and-coming Division I program. Army's success impressed not only the pollsters in the Northeast Region, but on the national level as well.
Each new class at the Military Academy outshined the previous as the soccer program flourished in Ventriglia's quest to upgrade the schedule and personnel. By his third varsity season (1988), Army earned regional and national recognition, ranking at one point as high as fifth in Division II along with earning its first ECAC Tournament bid.
The following year, the Black Knights were ranked in the Top 10 nationally and as high as second in the Northeast Region following a 12-0 run.
Army received its second straight ECAC postseason invitation that year, finishing runner-up en route to establishing a school record 15-5-1 mark.
Ventriglia's squad equaled that victory total its second season at the Division I level (1991), then bettered it the next two years, compiling a 17-4-1 mark in 1992 followed by a school record 20-1-1 finish in 1993.
Breaking into the national and regional polls in 1993, Army set school marks for wins (20), fewest losses (1), winning percentage (.932), shutouts (13) and unbeaten streak (18), along with capturing the Patriot League crown.
In 1996, the Black Knights received their third postseason ECAC bid, but first at Division I. They were repeat picks in 1997 as they jumped two spots to hosting a first-round game as the No. 3 seed. Army went on to reach the semifinals both times and posted its third highest win total in compiling 16 victories in 1997.
After 12 straight winning campaigns, Ventriglia had to contend with growing pains before turning the corner three years ago. It proved to be one of the finest seasons in Black Knight history. Their .765 (12-3-2) winning percentage and shutouts (10) both rank as the third best marks in the school's 19-year history. The team also set single-season mark for fewest goals allowed (9).
Among the season highlights in 2002 was Ventriglia's and the program's 200th victory, which came in a 2-0 blanking of Air Force, a first-place finish at the Stony Brook Invitational, along with winning the Patriot League regular-season title and hosting the tournament as the top seed. It was Army's fourth title and first in nine years.
The tournament berth was the Black Knights' first since 1999 when their 2-0 upset of five-time defending league champion Colgate in the regular-season finale clinched a playoff spot for the fifth straight year. In 2001, the Black Knights posted their second win in three years over the Raiders, and most lopsided, with a 4-0 victory.
After jumping out to an 8-2 start in 2003, injuries claimed several starters, and Ventriglia was forced to go with a younger lineup. Eleven of Army's 19 games were decided by one goal and the Black Knights ended the campaign 9-10.
The coaching veteran guided his charges to an 8-8-4 mark a year ago, including a 10-game unbeaten streak to close the campaign. The Black Knights finished the 2004 season 6-0-4, eventually falling to Colgate in a penalty kick shootout in the first round of the Patriot League tournament. Army and Colgate played to a 1-1 tie after regulation and two overtime periods before the Raiders took a 3-1 decision on penalty kicks.
Ventriglia, who has authored a 55-28-7 (.651) regular-season Patriot League mark, was tabbed for league coaching honors at the start and end of the decade. He was singled out for back-to-back honors in 1991 and 1992 and was tabbed three times over a seven-year span (1997, 1999 and 2002).
Several of the players he coached earned All-America honors. In 1988, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) named defender Carla Miller to the Division II team. The following year, Kelly Demers garnered academic All-America third team honors. At the Division I level, Holly Pedley was named to the UMBRO NSCAA All-America second unit as a freshman in 1994. She was picked for regional (Northeast) first-team honors that year and repeated in 1996 and 1997. Pedley was also named to the GTE Women's At-Large District 1 Academic All-America squad in 1997.
Between 1993 and 1997, five Black Knights earned a total of nine regional certificates. Pedley, Tara Williams, Alexis Albano, Kate Pendry and Kerry Loughman were among the committee selections. Albano, like Pedley, was a three-time pick, garnering second-team honors in 1994, 1995 and 1996. Williams in 1993 and Pendry in 1994 were named to the second units, while Loughman earned third team honors as a sophomore in 1997.
Lauren Rowe and Delaney Brown each received NSCAA all-region honors in 2002. Rowe, a two-time honoree, was just the second Black Knight named to the first team after earning third team honors in 2001. Brown became just the third Army freshman to garner regional honors with her selection to the third unit.
Last fall, Brown was recognized once again by the NSCAA as a second-team selection as well as scholar-athlete award winner after leading her team in almost every offensive category, while posting a 3.375 grade-point average in the classroom.
Last season also saw Ventriglia welcome his youngest son Jimmy to the Army sideline as a volunteer assistant coach with the Black Knights.
Ventriglia's prominent players ranked among the finest in the Patriot League. Four of his Black Knights were selected "Player of the Year" (three offensive and one defensive), three were named "Rookie of the Year" and three chosen "Scholar Athlete" along with 61 all-league certificates. Rowe, an all-league pick at both forward and on defense in her career, became the first Black Knight to earn "Defensive Player of the Year" honors and the second chosen both MVP and Scholar Athlete in 2002. Brown was the first Army freshman chosen "Rookie of the Year" since Emily Harrington was selected in 1995.
Tosie LeGrand, Williams, Pedley and Shannon Stein were four-time all-league selections, while Gretchen Meier, Albano, Loughman and Rowe were three-time picks.
When the Patriot League selected its All-Decade Team in the fall of 2001, four of Ventriglia's former players were among the 10 selected. Army dominated at both the forward and midfield positions with two representatives each. Albano and Pedley were among the four voted at forward with Williams and LeGrand two of the three designated midfielders.
Additional plaudits were earned as nine former players dominated the 2004 All-Army team roster and eight were chosen for the Armed Forces All-Star Team of 18 players selected from the service branches (Army, Navy and Air Force) to represent the United States at the CISM (International Military Sports Council) Tournament.
No stranger to the area, Ventriglia coached 16 years of soccer on the high school level, authoring a phenomenal 233-33-15 career record along with capturing five league and division titles, a pair of sectional and district championships capped with the New York State Class C crown his final year.
His first coaching stop in the Hudson Valley was at New Paltz High where, after starting the boys' soccer program, his teams captured a pair of league titles. He finished that stint with a 148-25-10 mark.
After winning the Mid-Hudson Athletic League in 1980, Ventriglia signed on as an assistant coach at Goshen High in 1981. He helped the team to a 16-1 mark and the MHAL title.
The following year he accepted the head position at Highland High. During his three-year tenure, his booters recorded an undefeated 54-match winning streak in league play, captured a pair of Section 9 titles, two Capital District crowns, an Eastern Championship and the New York State Class `C' Championship in 1984. His oldest son Sandy played for him his final year and went on to establish school scoring records, later broken by his younger brother Jimmy.
As a collegian, the 1967 graduate of SUNY New Paltz was a three time All-American and Soccer Magazine's "Player of the Year." Ventriglia competed at the Pan American Games in the summer of '67 and was a member of the 1968 Olympic team.
Gene and his wife, Donna, have two sons, Sandy and Jimmy and a daughter, Linda (More) and five grandchildren.