For the first time in 18 years, Utah State’s soccer program will be in need of a new head coach.
That’s because Heather Cairns has made the decision to step away. Her decision was announced less than a week after the Aggies closed out their abbreviated spring season with a 3-0 victory over Wyoming.
The Aggies lost their first three matches this spring, but finished on a five-match unbeaten streak and recorded a record of 5-4-1. In Cairns’ 18 seasons at the helm, USU went 170-144-41 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament twice — in back-to-back years as a member of the Western Athletic Conference in 2011 and 2012.
Cairns is the longest-tenured coach in program history and, until this announcement, was the longest-tenured current Aggie coach in all sports.
“Utah State soccer is such a special program and one that I have been honored to be a part of for 18 seasons,” Cairns said in a press release. “I have worked with some of the best student-athletes and we have shared many special moments.
“I am especially proud of the current team. After some challenging years and through this year’s COVID pandemic, they showed resilience, pride and dedication which resulted in a second-place divisional finish and put USU soccer back in the championship conversation. I am going to enjoy cheering on the Aggies in the future.”
Under the tutelage of Cairns, the Aggies captured three regular season WAC titles in a five-year span from 2008-12. USU won the WAC Tournament in 2011 and 2012 and thus punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies won a program-record 15 games in 2011 (15-5-2) and went 13-3-6 the following season, which is the fewest loses in school history.
The former Creighton (1999-2002) and New Mexico (1997-98) assistant coach guided the Aggies through three different conferences. Cairns, who was a graduate assistant at St. Ambrose University from 1994-96, helped led USU to records of 7-8-3 in the Big West, 42-9-8 in the WAC and 37-39-10 in the Mountain West.
Cairns coached a total of 35 Aggies who garnered all-conference accolades, including a handful to specialty awards. Shantel Flanary was a two-time WAC Offensive Player of the Year, Natalie Norris a three-time WAC Defensive Player of the Year, and Taryn Rose the 2014 MW Defensive Player of the Year. Flanary, Rose and Lindsay Smart also earned WAC Freshman of the Year awards under the guidance of Cairns. Additionally, Norris was the WAC Tournament MVP in 2012, as was former teammate Molli Merrill in 2011.
The former Canisius College (New York) star — Cairns was a two-year captain for the Griffins — also had a proven track record of recruiting athletes who did well in the classroom. Case in point: Cairns’ players at USU secured academic all-conference honors 257 times from 2003-20.
“On behalf of Utah State Athletics, I would like to express our gratitude to Heather for her 18 years of not only guiding our soccer program, but also being an outstanding ambassador of Utah State University,” USU Vice President and Director of Athletics John Hartwell said in a press release. “We wish her much success in her future endeavors.”
USU freshman defender Kelsey Steed was tabbed a second-team all-Mountain West selection on Thursday, plus was awarded a spot on the all-newcomer team.
Steed played every minute in all 10 matches for the Aggies this past season. USU only allowed 10 goals in those games, including two in its final five. The Syracuse High School product helped propel the Aggies to four shutouts, to boot.
USU will hold its annual Blue vs. White Spring Game on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Maverik Stadium.
Fans can attend free of charge and the gates will open at 1 o’clock. No fans will be allowed on the field at any time and they are required to wear a mask.
The scrimmage will consist of two 10-minute quarters, followed by a 10-minute halftime and a 20-minute one quarter second half. Aggie head coach Blake Anderson will recognize all former USU players in attendance at halftime.