The Cal Lutheran men’s and women’s soccer teams are on the cusp of earning invitations to the NCAA Division III playoffs, but who can blame Coach George Kuntz for looking ahead to a more peaceful time--say, the off-season?
For the past 2 1/2 months, Kuntz has been counselor, friend, teacher, psychologist and coach to 57 soccer players at Cal Lutheran.
On Wednesday, Kuntz was stationed on the sidelines at the Cal Lutheran soccer field, watching the men’s team defeat Claremont-Mudd, 3-1, to move into a tie for the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference lead with Claremont.
At the same time, he was wondering how the Cal Lutheran women’s team he coaches was faring on the road against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. Coaching both teams has kept Kuntz galloping all season. In all, he supervises three teams--the men’s junior varsity is the other--which often are headed along different paths. The men’s and women’s varsity teams usually play on the same day, one at home and the other away.
Kuntz, 31, must decide which match takes precedence and then stay with that team while an assistant presides over the other’s match. Practice days result in between four and six hours of work on the Cal Lutheran fields. Game days, taking into account office work, travel time and returning to take care of any problems of the team he couldn’t be with that day, can be as long as 14 hours.
“It’s a hectic life style for 2 1/2 months,” Kuntz said. “But I get so much joy out of coaching.”
Certainly, there has been reason to celebrate. Cal Lutheran’s women’s team, which will finish the season with a nonconference match at home against Cal Baptist today, clinched the SCIAC championship with an 11-0 victory over La Verne on Saturday. The Regals are 15-3 and have won all 12 conference matches. The men’s team, which is 13-4-1, has won 12 of 13 conference matches and needs a victory at Caltech today in its regular-season finale to guarantee itself at least a share of the SCIAC title.
Both the men’s and women’s teams will learn Sunday if they have been selected by an NCAA committee to take part in the Division III playoffs.
Kuntz started coaching the men’s team in 1988. He led the Kingsmen to the playoffs and was named the NAIA District 3 coach of the year. It was only the second time the team had reached the playoffs in seven years. The next two years, the men made it to the second round of the playoffs--the furthest the team had advanced.
When Kuntz added the women’s team to his responsibilities in 1989, the Regals went 5-11-1, but Kuntz turned that around to 12-5 last year. This season, so many men reported for tryouts that Kuntz added a junior varsity, although he does not coach it.
Kuntz, who also teaches radio broadcasting at Cal Lutheran, says he enjoys coaching both teams but that he is not sure if it has been beneficial to the players.
Certainly, the situation is unusual. Kuntz is the only coach in the SCIAC who guides both the men’s and women’s teams. However, don’t expect a change in plans any time soon. Robert Doering, Cal Lutheran’s athletic director, says he has no intention of reorganizing the coaching staff to split Kuntz’s responsibilities.
“You don’t mess with things that are going well,” Doering said.
And Kuntz seems to want to oblige the administration, saying, “I’ll do it as long as the school wants me to.”
Still, the threat of burnout looms in the minds of Kuntz’s friends and associates. His assistants call him a “workaholic,” a description he deems appropriate. “I could do it for a few more years,” Kuntz said. “I don’t think I can do it forever.”
Kuntz’s demeanor has helped him cope with a tough situation. He rarely yells at his players, most often choosing to stay on the bench and periodically shout encouragement from there.
“I think I’m pretty low-key,” Kuntz said. “If we don’t do our job during the week, there’s very little we can do in a game.”
Rachel Wackerman, the Regals’ high-scoring sophomore forward, says Kuntz is the best coach she has had in her 14 years as a player. “He knows how to deal with players,” Wackerman said, “and how to formulate it so that we all play together in the right way.”
When Kuntz splits time between the teams, he puts Sean Roache in charge of the men and Scott Murray in charge of the women. However, players from both teams clearly view Kuntz as their coach.
Kuntz, who also coaches an under-15 team in the California Youth Soccer Assn. Olympic Development Program during the off-season, draws inspiration as a coach from his father Daniel, who played professional soccer in Mexico and coached George while he grew up in Phoenix.
“I remember playing in the back yard, trying to take the ball from my father, but I could never take the ball away from him, ever,” Kuntz said.
Kuntz grew up playing almost 55 games a year against adult teams in Arizona and all over the world. He was offered positions on club teams in Germany and Mexico but stayed in the United States so he could continue his education.
A knee injury that he sustained in 1980 while playing at San Diego Mesa College finally got the better of him and, after playing at Westmont College for two years, he returned home to complete his education at Arizona State.
Only since turning to coaching has Kuntz again approached soccer at full speed. And since a hectic pace has brought at least one title this season, no one seems quite ready to request that he slow down.