Rayfield reflects on decade-long Illini head-coaching career

Janet Rayfield is in the middle of her 10th season as head coach of the Illini soccer team. But to her, the decade seems like only a few years.

“Has it been 10 years already?” Rayfield said. “A decade of seasons, you think that should be a long time but it goes pretty quick.”

In 10 years, Rayfield has brought success to the Illinois program with talented teams year after year, as she has coached for a majority of the program’s existence — it started in 1997.

“Looking back on the experience, every year is different, some of the great things about college soccer is it’s an institution that attracts a really good student-athlete,” Rayfield said. “It’s been a really enjoyable place to work with those type of people. It’s probably the people that I remember out of those 10 years more so than wins or losses or championships or anything.“

Despite her success with the Illini, those people — the athletes she has helped develop in this program — are her most important accomplishments.

“It sounds sort of cliché-ish or cheesy, but a lot of the accomplishments are the things that have happened once they have gone on from here,” Rayfield said. “The lawyers, the doctors, the teachers and the professional soccer players, if that’s what they choose to be.

“It’s the careers they have after they leave here that I think are the moments or accomplishments I’m most proud of in terms of the program.”

One of the biggest reasons for her success with the Illini is a love and talent for recruiting.

“The recruiting, there’s so many assets to it … I’ve seen a lot of people around the world and around the country and I’m really excited about the players we’ve been able to bring in here because they fit.” Rayfield said. “They fit our soccer program, they fit the academics and they fit the style not just of play that we want to have but the style of program.”

“That’s a lesson that I have probably learned later in my coaching life is that the fit is just as important as the ability.”

Julie Ewing is now in her fourth year playing under Rayfield’s coaching style.

“She knows a ton about the game, she had probably seen more film, more games than most people,” Ewing said. “She just really understands the game, the breakdown of the game, has a real vision and just tries to help us see the different things she sees.”

As Ewing nears the end of her time with the program, freshman Stephanie Pouse is just getting started.

“With all the schools I was looking into, this one was always kind of my goal because I knew what she did with the national team and I knew what she did with this program,” Pouse said.

Rayfield has done plenty with development of women’s soccer in the U.S., including working as the national staff coach for U.S. Soccer, and also serving on the coaching staff for the women’s national team as well as several youth national teams. She also served as president of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.

Rayfield had a big influence on Pouse’s decision to play for the Illini.

“It was more so the effect she has on people as a whole, not just on the soccer aspects of their lives,” Pouse said. “So I think that her philosophy and the way that she runs the program and all of her coaching styles is what influenced me the most to come here.”

Although Rayfield is motivated see the program succeed, she spends time with her players on a personal level as well.

“Shes funny, I don’t know if she means to be all the time … but we enjoy joking around with her,” Ewing said. “We definitely respect her a lot but we can also really have personal conversations and get on deeper levels and also just joke around with her. So it’s really cool to have all different aspects of that in a coach.”

Rayfield has developed five All-Americans, including four Big Ten player of the Year winners with the Illini.

“With her, she’s such a phenomenal coach and she always brings in the best coaching staff and I just feel like so many people grow as they go through the program like with all the seniors,” Pouse said. “The intelligence levels not just only soccer, but with everything else is so high because of the coaching staff we have.”

Rayfield has reached seven NCAA tournaments with the Illini. However, she was also a decorated student-athlete, leading North Carolina to two national championships. She currently holds the North Carolina records of most goals (6) and most points in a game (12) and is second to Mia Hamm in career goals with 93.

“I think everybody thinks Carolina was and always has been a great soccer team, you know; we weren’t great my freshman and sophomore year,” Rayfield said. “But I learned how to decide that you could be a part of something and make something great and become great just with hard work and effort and getting people to buy into a dream and a vision that someone had that we could be great, and not only has it shaped my coaching, it shaped me as a person.”

Rayfield is now hoping to pass on that mentality to the Illini.

“I think this is a program that can win a national championship and at the same time produce a lot more great human beings along the way,” she said.