BANNER ELK, N.C. - Lees-McRae College head men's soccer coach, Chris Whalley, returns to the NCAA Division II Final Four in the 2009, after taking his Mercyhurst College team to the Final Four, as a player, in 2002.
As a senior midfielder, at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania, Whalley, was the starting center midfielder on the team that hosted the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight and advanced to the Final Four. In the Sweet Sixteen, Whalley's hat trick gave Mercyhurst the win, and in the Elite Eight, Whalley earned a penalty kick for his squad to advance to the Final Four. But, in the Final Four, Whalley was sent off in the 28th minute for a tackle and his team fell, 2-1, to Southern New Hampshire at the Virginia Beach Sports Complex in Virginia Beach, Va.
"It was the best experience in college soccer for me it was all we ever talked about on the team," Whalley said. "It was what our coach talked to me about when he was recruiting me, and it was a big reason I went there. To take our team to the Final Four was something special."
After falling in the Elite Eight in 2007 to Montevallo, 2-0, and to Tusculum, 2-0, in the Sweet Sixteen in 2008, Whalley rallied his troops and made a push for the Final Four in 2009. His team went through the 2009 Southeast Regional with a 6-3 win over Wingate and a 3-2 overtime win over Anderson to advance to the Elite Eight. In the Elite Eight, Whalley's Bobcats took an early lead over Tampa and held on for the 1-0 win to return Whalley to the Final Four. The 2009 Final Four will be held at the University of Tampa's Pepin Stadium.
"This is the proudest moment as a coach I have had, and I don't think there are many people have been there as a player and a coach and something I am proud of for achieving," Whalley said. "I am happy for the lads and everyone involved. The support we get from get from the college and booster club is outstanding, and I can't thank them enough for their hard work and effort."
Whalley is not content with just reaching the Final Four, but has his eyes set on the National Championship, something that avoided him in college.
"Now we have to get back to work this week to make sure we are prepared for Lewis in the final four match and ultimately give ourselves a chance to play for a national title," Whalley said.