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(Update: Maryville’s Dept. of Athletics has announced Lori Chalupny as head coach-designate for the women’s soccer program, beginning in 2018. Eric Delabar will stay with the team, transitioning to assistant coach.)
In sports, a special bond develops between coach and player, and such relationships are often lasting. So it is for Eric Delabar, head coach for women’s soccer for the past 17 years, and Lori Chalupny, the team’s assistant coach. The two first met when Delabar coached Chalupny as young soccer player.
If the name Lori Chalupny sounds familiar, it’s because the St. Louis native, already a 1998 Olympic Gold Medalist, gained worldwide notoriety as a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team that won the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. Chalupny’s remarkable soccer journey began when she was 5 years old. She played for an indoor soccer league, coached by Delabar.
“Even at that young age, Lori’s competitive fire was evident,” he recalls. “Her athleticism stood out, and she always worked hard to be better. She would spend weekends playing on as many teams as she could, and coaches would fight over her.”
“Even at that young age, Lori’s competitive fire was evident.”
~ Head Coach Eric Delabar
Chalupny remembers that time well. “He was my first soccer coach and my favorite,” she says. “He emphasized learning basic skills and not relying simply on athletic ability. This was huge for my development.”
“He was my first soccer coach and my favorite. He emphasized learning basic skills and not relying simply on athletic ability. This was huge for my development.”
~ Assistant Coach Lori Chalupny
Chalupny and Delabar kept in touch after she left the league. In July 2013, Delabar hired his former standout athlete. “My goal was to hire the best female we could, and I thought of Lori,” says Delabar. “Lucky for us, she agreed to help develop the Maryville women’s soccer program.”
“Coming to Maryville felt like I was where I belonged,” says Chalupny. “Coach Delabar and I have known each other for so long. Our camaraderie and mutual respect create a good coaching relationship, and that trickles down to the whole team.”
Delabar, a former goalkeeper, is a member of the Quincy University Hall of Fame, NAIA Hall of Fame and St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame. His deep experience complements the skills Chalupny brings to the field.
“Lori is great at training the girls and talking tactics with the other coaches,” he says. “Her experience helps her recognize teachable moments on and off the field. My girls are the luckiest soccer players in this country.”
“You can tell that Lori and Eric have known each other for a long time,” says player Katy Rood. “They enjoy working together and always get in a few laughs at practice.”
Teammate Allison Verville says the coaching duo brings individual strengths to the field. “Delabar is particularly good at creating an overall game plan and motivating the team in both practice and in games,” she says. “Lori is very good at pulling you aside individually, and making small comments here and there that make all the difference. Even when Lori is not there we often quote her, saying, ‘It’s the little things.’”
Both coaches say their role is more than teaching the skills of the game; it’s about being a mentor and creating a family of players and coaches who care about one another.
“Without the team family mentality, Maryville soccer would not be what it is,” says Verville. “These are not just people I play soccer with, these are people I rely on in all aspects of my life. This brings all the girls closer together and attributes to much of our success.”
Unquestionably, Chalupny’s soccer career is an inspiration for her Saints team.
“Her success motivates me to push myself on the field,” Verville says. “She is not just a professional soccer player though, she is also an incredible person. She makes us feel like we are important, not only as soccer players but as people, too. At the end of the day we aren’t going to be professional soccer players but professionals in our own fields of study, and she is a great person for us to model our lives after on and off the field.”
“Lori’s success on the field inspires me to be the best player I can be,” Rood says. “She inspires me to want to make it to the GLVC tournament, which Maryville women’s team hasn’t done before. To be a part of school history would be such an amazing opportunity.”
One of Chalupny’s favorite moments from the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup was when the final whistle blew against Japan. “Winning a World Cup is something I had dreamt about since I first started playing soccer,” she says. “It is an incredible feeling to achieve something you have worked so long and hard for.”
Between championship games in Canada, Chalupny took time via online video chats to share her excitement and inspire young athletes participating in Maryville’s summer soccer camps.
“Not long ago, I was in the same place they were,” she says. “It was a full-circle moment for me to talk to these young players who are just starting their journeys. Playing soccer professionally is a huge goal to have. Achieving it has to start with passion for the sport, because there isn’t a whole lot of money or fame,” she says. “It was fun to show them that dreams come true, and they can get to where I am with hard work and a passion for the game.”