A young and proven new coach has been hired to take the helm at IU Kokomo women’s soccer.
Following four successful years as the head coach at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Ill., Sohaila Akhavein has been hired to spearhead the IUK women’s soccer program. Former IUK coach Terry Stewart stepped away to spend more time with his family following the birth of his child, so IUK turned to Akhavein and her small-college successes for the program’s next chapter. Akhavein said she’s looking forward to working with the Cougars.
"First and foremost it’s an opportunity of growth,” Akhavein said. “As a coach you always want to look to get better and be the best you can be, and this was an opportunity for me to come into a program that’s very young still and has so much potential, and to help them get to the next level.”
The IUK soccer program was only conceived in 2018, but the talent level of the River States Conference was attractive to Akhavein as well, she said. Being from a slew of smaller colleges herself, Akhavein said she sees IUK as an opportunity to take the next step for both herself as a coach and the program as a whole.
At Blackburn College, Akhavein posted four all-conference players in the competitive Division III St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC).
Before to her time at Blackburn, she worked with the Oshkosh United Soccer Club in Oshkosh, Wis., and served as an assistant coach for Ripon College in Ripon, Wis. She helped lead the Redhawks to a then-program best 10-7-1 record in 2013.
“I think having a young team and a young program, there’s still a lot of energy and excitement in wanting to be the best on and off the field that they can be. And having an opportunity for myself to come in and work and build a young program, it’s kind of what I’ve been used to,” Akhavein said.
Akhavein described her coaching style as “transformational and motivational.” She wants her players to lead by example up and down the roster, and motivate each other in the most positive ways possible.
She’s a grinder, she said, and doesn’t hide from a difficult challenge. That’s a quality she wants her team to take head-on, and wants her team to challenge each other to be great in the classroom and on the field.
“I’ve always told my players and they know that what I ask of them to do is something that I would be able to do myself. Being good, humble, respectful young women is very important to me,” she said. “I’ve been able to establish a good coaching mantra with teams and players that they know that I’m going to be here to support them.”
IUK is a young soccer team, with not many players graduating on from 2020. Stewart brought in two international players, Chloe Wyler of Durham, England, and Alicia Burns of Edinburgh, Scotland, who will be joining the Cougars for next season.
Though he’s stepping away to be with his family, Akhavein said Stewart has built a great foundation at IUK and trusts in his roster and assistant coaches to help her and the program succeed.
“I’m excited for those players coming in. He did great. Coach Stewart did fantastic with the players that he’s recruited for this fall season,” she said. “And being able to recruit international students now, that just opens up the pipeline for us to get more and continue to grow the program and see where we can go in the next couple years.”
Akhavein graduated from Marian University in Fond du Lac, Wis. in 2011, and has a long list of experiences from coaching at Blackburn College to serving as the sports coordinator at the YMCA is Oshkosh, Wis.
IUK Athletic Director Greg Cooper complimented Akhavein on her decorated resume and said he looks forward to watching where she can take the program.
“I am very excited for Sohaila to lead our young program. Her leadership, positivity and small-college head coaching experience will be vital to the development of our team. This group is poised to take a big step forward this year and Sohaila is the right person to help them reach their goals,” Cooper said.