Anna McDuffie speaks to her players during a practice at the Field House Sept. 19. She was hired by both Cardinals teams this past summer after four seasons as a player.
By Collin Bolebruch
Just 43.8% of NCAA Division III women’s head coaching jobs are held by women. Additionally, 50.3% of assistant positions across NCAA women’s sports are held by women, according to the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
SUNY Plattsburgh is above average in this regard — women coach seven out of its nine women’s sports programs. Jordyn Naylon even coaches the men’s cross country team.
Women coaches in men’s sports is something even rarer. Across 415 Division III men’s soccer programs in 2022, there were just seven women coaches. Anna McDuffie became one of those trailblazers by joining the Cardinals’ men’s and women’s soccer staffs this past summer. She’s the first woman to ever be employed by the men’s program.
McDuffie first became a Cardinal in 2019. Self-admittedly, she didn’t play much. She made the most of it, doing what she could in her role. Then-junior forward Avery Durgan said McDuffie had a drive to see everyone else on the team play better.
“I found that my way of helping the team out was just to give encouragement, cheering the team on and seeing what I saw on the field and bringing that to the players,” McDuffie said. “I realized that this is something I enjoy doing, being able to work with players and try and improve their game as individuals and as a team.”
McDuffie started once over her first three years, recording zero goals and zero assists and missing the 2020 season entirely due to its cancellation.
Head Coach Whitney Frary was hired in 2022, McDuffie’s senior season. McDuffie went into the season with an extra year of eligibility in her pocket, unsure what to do with it. Nevertheless, she was voted a captain by her teammates before the season started. McDuffie possessed exemplary leadership qualities that exceeded her output on the field.
Behind McDuffie’s captainship, the Cardinals extended its playoff streak to eight straight years. She registered her first career goal in her second-to-last game and her first two career assists in her final game. She took a backseat in its playoff game against Oswego.
“I could tell that she loved the team and she had so much passion for not just the sport, but also the team’s success,” Frary said. “She constantly put them above herself and what she wanted, and I think that’s something, kind of like that selfless leader, is so beneficial for young players to see.”
McDuffie was a fitness and wellness leadership major, minoring in athletic coaching. Her minor was coordinated by Head Men’s Soccer Coach Chris Taylor, who was quickly put on to her wit and potential as a coach.
“She was really impressive in my class. I really enjoyed listening to her ideas and her thought processes,” Taylor said. “We saw a lot of potential there and we need all the help we can get at times, so another set of eyes, another mind is always helpful.”
This spring, McDuffie needed to complete an internship for her studies. It only made sense that she rejoin women’s soccer, but this time, on the sideline. Frary was impressed with her tenure, as McDuffie was a fast learner.
McDuffie was hired in the summer alongside ‘19 Potsdam alumna Sarah Erno. These were major staff moves for both the Frary and Taylor administrations. This is the first time Taylor has had a second assistant since 2018, his first season. Frary’s excited about putting a woman in front of men’s players, calling it “progressive.”
Frary’s first season saw her coaching alongside Goalkeeping Coach Geoff Spear, who has served with both teams since before her hiring. Durgan said McDuffie’s hiring felt like “reassurance” going into the season. Getting two young, female former athletes was a step in the right direction for the locker room.
“I think it’s amazing, and I vouch for women coaching women,” Durgan said. “They all played college soccer, they’ve all been through this. They know how to handle this, they know how to communicate with us, as they were here at some point themselves too. Them just knowing how this all works, it gives us reassurance in knowing that what they’re doing is in our best interest.”
Two assistant coaches make Frary’s job a lot easier. They serve as a medium between the roster and Frary, taking up minor issues and creating better communication between the entities. The dynamic is a lot different this season.
“I think it’s good to hear different perspectives,” senior forward Tara Bendsak said. “It’s nice knowing that you can go female-to-female.”
Having McDuffie around allows players to work more intimately with coaches. She works as a motivator and can pull players aside for one-on-one help. Frary’s given her full range, allowing her to voice her opinion in practice, games and meetings.
“She really wants my insight on things and she feels comfortable talking to me,” McDuffie said. “It’s cool that she actually trusts me on the field.”
The men’s team has taken her in, too. Encouraging the team from the sidelines, building relationships with its members and coming to the away games have been the highlights so far.
“[Taylor] will want my feedback,” McDuffie said. “He’s made me feel very comfortable with sharing my opinion and what I see on the field.”
McDuffie’s former teammates find no issue in being around her in a different capacity, this time with more boundaries and authority. In turn, McDuffie feels a sense of respect from them.
“It was definitely a hard transition, but she did it and made it seem really well,” Bendsak said. “She is definitely taking things more seriously.”
McDuffie isn’t exclusive, and doesn’t treat the upperclassmen differently. She’s shown no problems helping the first-year players feel comfortable and integrated with the team.
“She makes sure that everyone is equally comfortable,” first-year defender Lia Parker said. “She brings together the team.”
This isn’t a quick stop for McDuffie on her way to a career. Soon, she’ll pursue her masters in athletic training. Frary has faith in her.
“She could be a really phenomenal head coach and I would love to keep mentoring her,” Frary said. “I always think that we need more women in the game, especially in college.”