BEYOND THE BOOK BLOG

Pioneers: Stacey Enos, the National Team's First Tar Heel

Published: March 25, 2021
Written by: Paul Tukey

INTRODUCING: Stacey Enos

COLLEGE: The University of North Carolina

PLAYGROUND PASSION: With no youth soccer or school teams to play for, Stacey started her athletic life on the softball field with girls and on the playgrounds with boys playing pickup soccer games. By age 14, Stacey found her way to Frisch’s, a soccer club team of mostly college-aged women. Though she has a twin sister, Romney, Stacey loved soccer so much she was prepared to move from Tampa to Miami to live with her aunt until Hillsborough County in Florida added girls soccer in to their school curriculum in 1980 in response to the landmark legislation known as Title IX.

Stacey Enos, horizontal in the center, keeps it light with members of the 1986 U.S. Women's National Team (photo courtesy of Cindy Gordon)

THE TRYOUT THAT ALTERED HER COURSE: Stacey said she had her heart set on playing soccer at the University of Central Florida in nearby Orlando, where she might have joined future National Teamers Linda Gancitano, Michelle Akers, Kim Wyant and Amy Griffin. When UCF coach Jim Rudy turned her down — “I think he probably figured he couldn’t tame me,” said Stacey — her high school coach pointed her toward Chapel Hill, where the new coach at North Carolina was holding an informal tryout. “Anson (Dorrance) wanted to kick the living shit out of everybody and I thrived in that environment,” said Stacy on Page 134 of Raising Tomorrow’s Champions. “I did run into Jim Rudy about 20 years later and he told me he knew he made a huge mistake in not bringing me in.”

THE PLAYER WHO CHANGED EVERYTHING: Among the most infamous stories in American women’s soccer history, thanks to nearly four decades of telling and re-telling by Anson, revolves around Stacey’s sophomore year when April Heinrichs — named the American player of the decade for the 1980s — arrived by way of Littleton, Colo. As detailed in our book and numerous other publications through the years, some of the older Tar Heel players visited Anson’s office to express objection to the new recruit’s brashly relentless style of play — but Stacey makes it clear she wasn’t one of them. She sees a life lesson for young players everywhere in her approach to her tougher-than-nails teammate. “I absolutely loved it, because April Heinrichs made me a better player,” said Stacey. “Anson always matched us up in practice and me training against April every day, in preparation for match day, was more physical, more demanding than anything I was going to face from any of the teams we played.”

THE NATIONAL TEAM: Between her junior and senior years of college, Stacey was among the approximately 70 women who traveled to Baton Rouge, La., to attend what unknowingly became the first-ever tryout for the National Team. With fellow Tar Heel Emily Pickering Harner injured for the first game in Italy that summer, Stacey carried home the distinction of being the first of more than 60 of Anson Dorrance’s North Carolina players to have played for the National Team in the past 36 years. She was also instrumental in another major team legacy that has endured from 1985 to now: the chanting of “Ooosa, Ooosa, Ooosa AH” prior to every game. As detailed in Chapter 13 of Raising Tomorrow’s Champions, Stacey was, as ever, the instigator. “I think if there was a role that I played, it was to keep things light hearted,” she said. “We focused on the job at hand, but it’s also important to have fun along the way.”

Stacey, right, with her wife, Annie, and their son, Gabriel

TAKE ME HOME, COUNTRY ROADS: When leg injuries suffered in a car accident ended Stacey’s playing career after she had started 10 of the first 11 games in team history, she said her life was shattered in more ways than one. For a long while, she said, she felt shunned by the game as a gay woman attempting to enter what seemed like an exclusive coaching fraternity. Her National Team resume, however, helped her land her first coaching gig at Utah State University from 1996 to 2001, and then her longest-standing appointment of 16 years as the head coach at Warren Wilson College in Asheville in western North Carolina. In 2018 she became part owner and coach of the Asheville City Soccer Club, a member of the Women’s Premier Soccer League that boasts 130 amateur adult teams across the United States. Though North Carolina isn’t known nationally as the most enlightened place for two married women to raise their son, Stacey has found personal and professional fulfillment in the city formed around the confluence of the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers. “Asheville is the kind of small city where there’s no judgement; people here just don’t care about someone’s orientation,” she said. “People are just people, accepted for whomever they are and whatever choices they make as long as they’re kind.”

Stacey was happy to point out her club team can boast of its own beer . . .
Stacey, left, with team co-owners Lydia Vandenbergh and Meghann Burke
Recognize the tall guest to Stacey's right? That's America's all-time leading scorer, Abby Wambach.

GRASS ROOTS SOCCER: With deep roots in the game, Asheville has become one of the Premier League’s true success stories, averaging 1,500 fans per game in a non-pandemic year and even selling out the municipal stadium for Pride Night with more than 2,200 people in attendance. Stacey was thrilled when one of her team’s star players from the 2018-2019 seasons, Jennifer Cudjoe, earned a spot on the New Jersey Sky Blue team of the National Women’s Soccer League. A native of Ghana, Jennifer had taken a circuitous route through the American educational system, with two small college teams in Oklahoma, another one in Ft. Kent, the northernmost town in Maine, before Stacey fielded a phone call from her coach Alex Smith, with whom Jennifer had just won a national Division III championship. “Without our team and our league, Jennifer probably would have had to leave the country to continue pursuing her dream,” said Stacey. “She developed into a better player here and look at her now. That’s what this is all about for me . . . growing the game I love.”

Pride Night filled the Asheville municipal stadium with fans in 2019.

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