This year, Emerson’s men’s soccer team didn’t treat Taylor Korytko like anything special. And that’s exactly how the 22-year-old first-year assistant coach wanted it to be.
Korytko, who was hired by head coach Javier Mejia after playing four years at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is the only female assistant coach of a male soccer team in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference.
The Arizona native said she began playing soccer at age five, eventually advancing to play on an Olympic Development Program team in the state. Korytko was a captain of her college team both her junior and senior seasons, and graduated from RPI with a biomedical engineering degree.
Patricia Nicol, Emerson’s athletic director, said she also coached males at the age of 23 as part of her role as West Virginia University’s head women’s track and field coach. Nicol said she wasn’t surprised that Korytko didn’t experience any blowback.
“I think if you’re a serious athlete, gender is not an issue,” Nicol said. “As long as the individual has knowledge, has the ability to communicate and relate to the student-athletes, I think that’s all student-athletes are looking for.”
Mejia said he explored the possibility of adding Korytko to his staff after a former club player of his, who went on to play at RPI, noted Korytko’s leadership ability as a captain. Korytko said she was hired just a day before the soccer team’s first preseason training session.
“It felt like a gift landed in my lap, because coaching at the collegiate level was something I always wanted to do, but wasn’t sure how I would be able to do that with a full time job,” Korytko said.
Korytko works as a research scientist at a medical device company, Haemonetics Corporation in Braintree, Massachusetts, by day, and said Emerson’s evening practices and nearby location helped make her dream a reality. Korytko said she could barely contain her excitement, accepting immediately when Mejia called with the job offer.
Under Mejia, Korytko frequently kept notes during games on conference foes, and devised strategies for stronger Emerson offensive play. Mejia said Korytko’s detailed regard for opponents helped him to determine his selections for the NEWMAC’s all-conference awards, but most importantly, helped players to adapt to opponent tendencies at halftime during games.
“The guys listened to her, implemented the things she wanted to change, and respected her opinion,” Mejia said.
Korytko got a chance to serve as head coach for one regular season game against the United States Coast Guard Academy, a conference opponent, that Mejia had to miss in early October. While the team lost 3-0, Korytko said she was impressed with how the team, shorthanded due to injury, adapted to an unusual game plan with her at the helm.
“I just got instant respect, and you could tell that they really want to learn,” Korytko said. “If someone knows what they’re talking about, they’re all eyes and ears.”
Korytko played in a women’s soccer league each Sunday during the fall, and said she is now looking for indoor opportunities ahead of winter. She got the chance to play during most of the team’s practice and training sessions, and senior captain Mitch Lapierre said he could easily understand why she was such a successful college athlete.
“You could tell she was very competitive, and it helped our level of play,” Lapierre, a marketing communication major, said. “She kept up with all of us, if not better than all of us.”
Korytko led her college’s team with nine goals in her senior season, with five game winners, according to the RPI athletics website.
Mejia felt Korytko also helped in the area of academic success. Korytko said she started high school exploring Division I soccer programs, but decided to attend RPI, a Division III school, because she came to value academics as a top priority. Lapierre said her philosophy matches the culture Emerson looks to create among student athletes.
“She understands what it takes to hold that high level of academic standard that we try to hold here at Emerson,” Lapierre said.
Korytko, who said she graduated with her bachelor’s and master’s degree in four years at RPI, saw similarities beyond the Division III status of both RPI and Emerson that helped her establish a connection to players.
“You go to a school, you do what you love, and you also want to play what you love,” Korytko said.
As soccer teams across the conference head into the offseason, Korytko hopes that her presence can inspire future female hires to coach male teams. She said if the locker room atmosphere at other colleges is similar to Emerson, there would be no adjustment period needed at all.
“It really just comes down to soccer knowledge when you’re coaching,” Korytko said. “If you know the game, then you can coach, and I think having a strong, confident woman coaching men is something that should definitely be looked into more.”