By Bethany Fitts
Hunter Crane (BS 11), head coach for the Oxford Chargers’ girls soccer team, is gaining a reputation as one of the best soccer coaches in the state of Mississippi. In fact, he was selected as the 2017 Mississippi Association of Coaches’ Girls’ Soccer Coach of the Year and since then the recognitions have only been accumulating. Still, Crane insists the Chargers have always had talent.
“When I got to Oxford, I realized very quickly that our girls’ soccer program is very talented and that if the opportunity ever became available, that [program] was what I wanted to coach,” Crane said.
For those who have been keeping up with the Chargers’ soccer program since Crane took over in 2015, this recognition may not come as a surprise. Under his leadership, the team went undefeated for the first time in program history during the 2016-17 season. The team has also been to a 5A State Championship and two 2-5A District Championships under his coaching.
“I promote a high intensity work rate,” Crane said. “You know, I want my athletes to go out and attack. I am a very offensive-minded coach, and we lean on that a lot in our program.”
While a high intensity work rate is, indeed, important to Crane, he says the most important aspect of his coaching philosophy is something he learned during his years at Ole Miss.
“When I first got to the university, I was still on the fence about whether I wanted to go to pharmacy school or be a soccer coach.”
It was the university’s women’s soccer coach, Matthew Mott, who helped Crane make his career decision.
“[Coach Mott] let me volunteer with his program his first year, so I just got to be around the women’s soccer team and see how a soccer program was run at the collegiate level,” Crane said. “It was different from my experience as a player. I got to see it from a coaching standpoint, and that was a great opportunity.”
According to Crane, Coach Mott taught him that the most important thing a coach can do is build relationships.
“Obviously, at that level, soccer players have been playing soccer their entire lives and so really it’s about relationships with your coaches, relationships with your teammates and trying to be a family,” Crane said. “One of his assistants told me that if the players trust you and know that you have their best interest at heart, then they’ll go out there and play for you. And I see that in my own program. My players go out and play for each other.”
Last year, this family atmosphere became vital for Crane and his players after a series of unexpected tragedies forced them to come together and stay together very early in the season.
“We had a couple of players whose parents were lost in the plane crash last August,” he said. “One player’s little brother was diagnosed with leukemia, and two of the players’ mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. All of this happened very early in the school year for us, and so we just took up the mantra that we were going to play for them. Last year was special because of what it meant to those families, what it meant to our school, what it meant to our team and our community and Oxford itself.”
According to Crane, this year held more challenges for the Lady Chargers, and the team was determined to meet them head on.
“We were challenged this year after we moved from 5A to 6A,” he said. “To be able to raise the level of competition we see in our season allowed us to raise the bar automatically, and we’ve answered the bell so far. We want to keep the girls from being complacent. It’s one thing to show up when the lights are on, it’s another thing to show up when it’s one-hundred degrees and nobody’s watching.”
Competition is important but, in the end, it is not about winning for Crane. Ultimately, he wants his program to impact his players in a positive way.
“I love this game, but I do what I do for these kids,” Crane said. “I want to make this a great experience for the young ladies that I have the opportunity to coach. It’s not about wins or losses or championships – it’s about them saying, ‘That was a great experience for me. Coach Crane made a difference in my life.’”
Even after all he has accomplished as a coach, Crane says he could not have achieved any of this recognition without his players and the Oxford community.
“My wife asked me last year after we won our championship, ‘What’s the dream job?’ And I said that I’m right where I want to be. Oxford is the dream job.”