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PAUL BERSEBACH , THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Stacey Finnerty stepped down as San Clemente's girls soccer coach following the 2015-16 season, ending a 16-year tenure that saw eight CIF championship game appearances and five CIF titles.

San Clemente's Finnerty ends era of excellence

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

A legend in Orange County’s girls soccer community is hanging up her cleats.

After contemplating retirement for several years, San Clemente’s Stacey Finnerty made it official when she talked to Tritons athletic director Jon Hamro and her team in early March.

Finnerty coached the Tritons for 16 seasons, winning five CIF-Southern Section titles in her time with the program. Her teams played in eight section championship games and own a record for appearing in five consecutive title games.

She coached her final game in the second round of the playoffs against eventual section Division 1 champion Santa Margarita. That’s where Finnerty’s emotional goodbye began. Before the game, she told Eagles coach Chuck Morales about her decision. He gave a warm embrace to his longtime friend and competitor.

“I was a little stunned by it,” Morales said. “It made me feel a little melancholy because I wasn’t going to coach against her anymore. She’s a tenacious coach, and she has tenacious teams.”

“You could walk off the field shaking hands with her. For me, I give her a hug because she’s just a special lady.”

Finnerty said she experienced a calling to be closer to her family. What made the decision excruciating for her, she said, was that she was stepping away from another family.

Those around the team said Finnerty had a way of making the program feel like the most important thing in one’s life. Chelsea Card, who played for and later was an assistant on Finnerty’s coaching staff, admitted that high school soccer was probably more important than it should have been for her.

Finnerty’s presence as the rock of the program kept others firmly bonded. Many, including Card, returned for the team’s alumni game every year because of Finnerty.

Finnerty brought a different brand of coaching to San Clemente. Her philosophy allowed the players to self-motivate, increasing their enjoyment of the game.

“My whole perspective on coaching is all about letting the athlete have control of their goals and the effort that they put into it,” Finnerty said.

As a champion of women in sports, Finnerty made it a major point of emphasis to send guilt back into the shadows by showering her girls with encouragement.

“Women have really struggled with guilt in our society if they’re told that they’re not doing everything that they can,” she added. “It’s hard for me to see a lot of girls only performing out of guilt instead of because they love the game. I would do whatever it takes to encourage women to coach.”

Finnerty’s successor has not been named, but it is believed that assistants Lauren Leslie, Annie Schlimmer and Kelli Cornell have put their hat in the ring to be the Tritons’ next coach. All six of the program’s coaches under Finnerty this season were San Clemente alumni.

Finnerty is a soccer lifer. She played her high school soccer at Dana Hills before going on to play Division I collegiately at Cal.

This was not the first time that Finnerty had tried to walk away from coaching. Her love of the game kept her coming back, and shined in a story told by Card.

“It was less than a year ago, they lost at the end last year at home,” Card said. “I know that because she called me afterwards. I didn’t get the call, and I got this voicemail. She was just in tears. I still have it.”

“She was like, ‘I just coached my last game, and I just wanted to call because you’ve been a really big part of this for me.’”

But Finnerty did return for a 16th season, leading the Tritons to a 13-4-7 record. San Clemente defeated St. Lucy’s of Glendora, 2-1, before falling to Santa Margarita, 1-0, in the second round of the playoffs.

Finnerty thought that she would never teach or coach at the high school level. In her first year, however, a group of hardworking seniors that included Whitney Jones (UCLA), Ricci Lugo (Villanova), Emily Ernsdorf (UCLA), Leslie Gialamas (USC), Allison Halpern (UC Santa Barbara) and Tracey Walla (USD) changed her mind.

“They were willing to work and do whatever it took,” Finnerty said. “They just motivated me. I saw myself with them, and I said, ‘I can do this. I love them. These girls are amazing.’ It took, and I stayed 16 years.”

Although she is walking away from the soccer field, Finnerty will remain at the school and teach AP Biology.

Finnerty thanked the San Clemente community for making the program great, calling it, “One team. One town. One school.”

“It honestly was the village that made this program great, and I attribute it to San Clemente’s family,” she said. “Those are the people that made it happen. I would never say that this is my program. This is the community’s program. That is what makes it special. That’s what makes people want to be there.”


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