ROCK SPRINGS – Western Wyoming Community College’s head men’s soccer coach, Jeff Atkinson, will pull double duty in the coming season, after being tapped to lead the Mustang women’s team, as well.
Atkinson succeeds former Mustang women’s coach Patrick Ritter, who departed at the end of fall semester for an assistant coaching job at NCAA D-I Dakota Wesleyan University in South Dakota. Atkinson is the third head coach of the Mustang women’s team since the sport was established at Western.
“I am thrilled to start a new chapter in my coaching career while still staying at the school and the job that I love,” Atkinson said. “It is my goal to continue the emphasis of strong academics for both the men’s and women’s soccer teams at Western Wyoming Community College while striving to have success for both teams on the soccer field.”
Atkinson played club soccer at Evanston High School and at the University of Wyoming, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish Education. He teaches Spanish at Rock Springs High School, where he coached boys’ soccer for nine seasons – leading them to five state tournaments and finishes of third, fourth and sixth place - before taking over the Mustang program. Atkinson just completed his tenth season coaching men’s soccer at Western, where he has amassed 85 victories and, in 2012, led the Mustangs to a Region IX championship and an NJCAA National Tournament berth, where they finished eighth in the nation.
“We interviewed a number of candidates for the women’s coaching position, Jeff formally applied for the job, and we felt that he was definitely the most qualified applicant,” said Mustang Athletic Director Lu Sweet. “He knows the region, he knows our athletes, and he knows what it takes to field a team that is successful on the field and in the classroom. Our players are very excited about playing for Coach Atkinson, and we have assured both teams that they will receive equal coaching time and attention under this arrangement.”
In order to assist Atkinson with off-the-field coaching duties, such as conditioning, Sweet has also joined the women’s coaching staff as an assistant coach. Sweet, who is going into her eighth year as Western’s AD, served as interim coach during the search for Ritter’s successor. She has previously coached women’s basketball at the University of Kansas and men’s basketball at Montana State University – Northern, and she holds a master’s degree in athletic administration and a doctorate in educational administration.
Also returning for the 2015-16 season is women’s assistant coach and Western alum Brady Baldwin, a RSHS graduate who played on the high school’s very first soccer team in 1987. Baldwin has 26 years of combined coaching experience at the youth, club and high school levels, and he has served as a Mustang assistant coach for two years.
Green River High School graduate and former soccer player Matt Robles also will return for his sixth season as Atkinson’s assistant coach for the Mustang men’s team. He also played college soccer at Western and at Laramie County Community College, and has coached youth soccer for many years.
“I am happy to keep working with Matt Robles, assistant coach with the WWCC men’s soccer team, and to start to work with Brady Baldwin, assistant women’s coach with the WWCC women’s team,” Atkinson said. “ Lu Sweet will be a lifesaver for me, not only in her usual Athletic Director role but also in her additional duties as assistant women’s soccer coach, to help lighten my load.”
The Mustang women’s team will look to rebound from an injury-ridden 2014-15 season in which they tallied just three wins versus 11 losses and two ties. The men’s team enjoyed a bit more success, going 7-9-2 in the regular season and dropping a hard-fought Region IX quarterfinal match to Utah State Eastern University.
“We will have some strong student athletes for both teams that will help us to continue the strong Western Wyoming Soccer traditions,” Atkinson said. “I am eager to get the Fall 2015 season going for both teams.”