Women's Soccer Coach Gains International Coaching Experience
Jerry Cheynet to serve as interim head coach.
August 15, 2002

BLACKSBURG, VA. - Virginia Tech women's soccer head coach, Sam Okpodu, has been granted a temporary leave of absence to serve as the general manager for the U-19 Nigerian national team as it competes in the first annual U-19 FIFA Women's World Championships. During his temporary absence men's soccer assistant coach, Jerry Cheynet, will serve as the interim head coach. Cheynet and the Hokies open the regular season against the University of Notre Dame on Sunday, Sept. 1.

The inaugural championships will be held throughout Canada from Aug. 17 to Sept. 1. Nigeria will play its games in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium against Canada, Japan and Denmark (Group A). Nigeria opens the tournament against Japan on Sunday, Aug. 18.

Okpodu, a native of Warri, Nigeria, received a call requesting his presence at the U-19 championships following a successful three-week stint as head coach of the Super Falcons, the Nigerian national team, this past summer. Okpodu selected and trained the Super Falcons, the reigning African champions, for three weeks in preparation for a friendly match with perennial powerhouse, England - a match that would be televised internationally.

The match officially kicked-off the Commonwealth Games and Queen's Jubilee celebrations in Norwich City, England, and helped both teams prepare for the qualifying rounds of the 2003 Women's World Cup held in China.

"I really enjoy coaching and teaching someone the fine art of the game," Okpodu explains. "To have the opportunity to coach this team was an honor. It is one thing to watch an international game, but to be involved making the decisions in a game of that magnitude is a great experience."

Before a crowd of nearly 65,000, the Super Falcons scored the lone goal of the match in the 65th minute of play to capture a 1-0 advantage. Nigeria held off a late England rally with a combination of steady ball control and great defense. The victory shocked the English fans, but did not come as much of a surprise to Okpodu.

"We knew that we had a job to do and we had to maintain our focus," Okpodu says. "That is the same way I approach any game. Some people will ask why I am so stone faced during the games. Well, I am at work. We have a job to do and I must stay focused."

Less than one week following his return to the United States, the Nigerian Football Association once again called on Okpodu for assistance. Okpodu will have the opportunity to showcase his knowledge of the game at the U19 FIFA Women's World Championships where he will "oversee the technical crew (coaching staff and players)" in a tournament with teams representing 12 nations.

"This is a great opportunity for me and our program at Virginia Tech," Okpodu says. "I will have another opportunity to learn how things are done at the next level. Every opportunity I have to coach soccer is exciting to me."

After a brief stint with the Nigerian national team, Okpodu landed a scholarship to North Carolina State University where he would pursue his education.

"Earning a degree was very important to me," Okpodu explains. "The soccer situation worked out for the best and I was able to play at N.C. State, but that was not the reason for me coming (to the United States). If soccer was the only thing that mattered, I would have stayed (in Nigeria) and played for the national team."

While a member of the Wolfpack's men's soccer team Okpodu earned first team All-America honors three times (1982-84) and All-ACC distinction three years. He led the Wolfpack in scoring all four seasons and still holds the ACC record with 78 career goals.

Most recently, Okpodu was one of nine members of the men's soccer program at N.C. State to be named to the ACC's 50th Anniversary Team. The 55-member team was voted on by the seven league institutions that sponsor the sport as decided by the league's 50th Anniversary Committee.

Okpodu went on to play professionally (Orlando Lions, 1988 & Raleigh Flyers, 1994) and at the international level (Swedintown, England, 1988). With a lack of an established league in the States, Okpodu decided to pursue another avenue.

"It was difficult playing professionally in the States because there was no established league. You would play one year and not know where you were going to be next year. I could not go on like that but I loved the game so much I could not walk away," Okpodu says.

"I didn't want to leave the game," Okpodu continues. "This was something I have been doing since I was a young boy. I felt like I still had a lot to offer so I wanted to stay involved. The next best thing to playing is to coach. When I teach somebody the skills and fundamentals of soccer and they enjoy themselves, I can enjoy the game through them, like when I was a player."

Okpodu returned to N.C. State as an assistant coach for the women's soccer team from 1990-92. During his three years as an assistant, the Wolfpack fielded an outstanding team, posting an overall record of 47-17-2 with three NCAA Tournament appearances.

In 1993 when Virginia Tech elevated its women's soccer team from club status to the varsity level, Tech offered Okpodu the job as head coach. In Okpodu's nine years at the helm, Tech has accumulated 70 victories as the program continues to improve each season. Last year marked the Hokies' inaugural season in the BIG EAST Conference, one of the nation's elite women's soccer leagues at the college level. The team showed steady improvement throughout the season. In the last three conference games, Tech posted a 1-1-1 record with its first conference win coming in convincing fashion, 4-0, against St. John's. During that three game stretch, the loss came by the narrowest of margins as Syracuse outlasted Tech, 1-0, in overtime. The Hokies posted an impressive 7-2-1 record versus non-BIG EAST affiliated opponents highlighted by an upset of No. 22 ranked William & Mary.

Okpodu has laid the foundation for the future of Virginia Tech women's soccer teaching the skills that he once displayed on the field as a player. Now Okpodu has accepted the challenge to coach the game he loves at an international level.

Okpodu will be back on the Tech sidelines for the Hokies' second match of the season on Wednesday, Sept. 4, at William & Mary.