When the Notre Dame Academy Pandas administration named Brian Woeste the next head coach of the vaunted four-time state champion soccer program Tuesday, the 47-year-old listed three values he wants to build the tradition-rich program around.
Positivity, excellence and hard work.
Woeste is back on the sidelines after not coaching high school soccer the last three seasons. He spent six seasons as an assistant under former Notre Dame head coach Dave Gronotte from 2014-2019. During that time, the Pandas won four straight 9th Region championships and finished state runner-up in 2017. Woeste started out as a freshman assistant, then moved up to junior varsity as an assistant before spending his last three seasons on the varsity level.
“We expect to compete. I’ve coached at the high school and club level for over a decade so I know a lot of the kids at the high school level programs in the area,” Woeste said. “I know the 9th Region is arguably the toughest region in the state to come out of right now. This is just a really cool thing for me to be a part of not only here at NDA. It’s the coaching community here in Northern Kentucky.”
Woeste graduated from Covington Catholic in 1994. He played soccer all four years in high school before playing two years at Northern Kentucky University.
“He has a real strong knowledge of the program. He has a real high soccer knowledge as well,” said Myanna Webster, Notre Dame Director of Athletics. “I think that was a perfect fit of with all those pieces coming together as one.”
The Pandas graduate nine players from last year’s team that finished 17-4-2, winning another 35th District championship and made it back to the 9th Region championship game for the 10th times in 11 years.
Notre Dame’s leading scorer from last year in forward Ellie Greenwell is graduating. But the second leading point-scorer with 15 goals and four assists in Riley Robertson will be a junior this fall. A number of experienced players such as center back defender Carly Tranter also return. Tranter will be a senior this fall.
“I think we’re all just excited to have next year set in stone and we all want to go as far as we can,” Tranter said. “This (was) our first open field (Wednesday). We’re going to have a couple a week and just get everyone out, do some team bonding and just prepare for a great season.”
Notre Dame tends to quickly reload despite graduation losses. The Pandas graduated 12 from the 2021 state championship team including Natalie Bain, who started 23 games as a freshman defender at nearby Xavier University last year.
“We have a very talented group coming up. If you look across our program, our JV team won the region,” Woeste said. “Our varsity was right there in the region finals. We feel like we’ve got the returning talent at our varsity level and talent in our pipeline that will help us compete again this year. We start every season at Notre Dame Academy with the expectation of coming out of the 9th Region and competing for a state championship. That’s why we’re here and that’s what we’re all about.”
Another returning player with a lot of experience is his daughter Kimberly. She had one assist last year.
“It’s the best and she’s an amazing kid. I’m lucky enough to have experience coaching her when she was little,” Woeste said of coaching Kimberly. “So to be able to get that experience is once in a lifetime stuff. She’s an incredible and mature kid and I don’t think every kid could handle their dad being the coach. Kimberly not only can handle it. She welcomes it. She encouraged me to do it and sees the value I can bring from a soccer expertise standpoint to the program.”
Notre Dame is known for being in good condition. The Pandas outscored opponents last year, 72-19. Similar to the state powers, the Pandas like to play ball-possession soccer making opponents chase them all over the field and wearing them down.
“We just had a meeting (Wednesday) to where we talked to the girls about coming in fit and ready to go when we start tryout in July. I think that’s one thing our athletes have traditionally done a great job with,” Woeste said.
Despite all the region titles, Woeste agreed the 9th Region helps keep the Pandas on their toes. Either Notre Dame or Highlands has won every 9th Region girls soccer crown in the current format. Highlands has won it four of the past five years, finishing state runner-up in 2018 and 2019.
Woeste said he has great respect for the job head coach Chris Norris has done at Highlands. The two played soccer together at NKU. Dixie Heights and St. Henry made it to the region semifinals last year. Woeste also said Cooper and Conner have solid programs.
“One of the things you have to do throughout the course of the season is find ways to test yourselves as a team,” Woeste said. “You have to be in situations and solve problems along the way. You don’t want to meet stiff competition for the first time when it’s a win or go home type of situation. I think that’s the beauty of playing in the 9th Region. There are many squads that bring competitive squads to the field. There are a lot of great coaches and players in this area. Whoever comes out of the 9th Region this year will be well prepared to face whatever challenges come down at the state level.”
Woeste said the next steps are analyzing the talent to figure out the roster, what formations best fit the personnel and to put together a solid coaching staff. Woeste said he wants assistants that exemplify the values of Notre Dame. He’s had assistants from previous staffs reach out already.
The Pandas have the third-most number of state championships in Kentucky High School Athletic Association history behind South Oldham and Sacred Heart at seven and eight, respectively. The other three state championships for Notre Dame came in 2004, 2011 and 2013.