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UConn Women’s Soccer: Former Players, Colleagues React to Len Tsantiris’ Retirement

Over his 37 years, Tsantiris gained the respect of many people in women’s soccer and beyond.

Ian Bethune - The UConn Blog

Len Tsantiris’ retirement announcement on Tuesday marked the end of an era for UConn women’s soccer. Over his 37-year career, the coach became well-respected not only for the way his teams performed, but also how he conducted himself day in and day out.

When the announcement broke, reaction came in from all across the women’s soccer world. From his former players to his peers in the game,

A member of the Irish National Team, Ciara McCormack initally played at Yale from 1997-2000 but would up with an extra season of eligibility, which she used at UConn in 2001. While her time in Storrs was short, it certainly left a big impact on her.

In a similar fashion, Courtney Hofer played three season at TCU before returning home to UConn for her final year.

“Len is a great coach and I think my year with him was really special. It was awesome for me to be around someone that had so much experience and having him be a mentor. His career was unbelievable and I think sitting back looking at it now, out of the year as a whole and just reflecting on the fact that coach was able to do something at such a high level for so many years is just absolutely incredible. The fact that he is willing to step down because he knows that it’s for the betterment of the program and team, I think that speaks volumes of how important coach is. His character and his ability to put the program first is top-notch.”

Hofer’s teammate Sabrina Toole, wasn’t supposed to come to UConn. However, it worked out better than she ever could’ve imagined.

“I was fortunate to find a home at UConn. I didn’t end up meeting coach until preseason so I had no idea what to expect. Now I look back on my four seasons and I'm thankful that Len gave me a chance. My most memorable moment with Coach was nine games into my sophomore year after he gave the lineup for the CCSU game. When he explained why I wasn't starting he said that I was just as good as the person they decided to play over me at center back but they needed more experience in the back-line and she was more of a leader. I was devastated but not deterred. I told him I understood. I didn’t play a minute in that game or the next, but I kept working hard. Coach’s honesty helped me realize that I needed to be more of a leader and playing time had to be earned in more ways than just based on skill. I've grown up a lot in four years. Decisions can feel unfair and some days are harder than others, but coach always emphasized,“Fight”. He fought to make this program successful and he instills that same fight in all his players. If I didn’t fight I would have never found my way back into the lineup and consistently earn a captain's band this year. When he announced his retirement to the team he urged us to remember why we love to play and then he turned to me, “Sab, what do I always say?” I jokingly guessed “fit” and “kiddo”, but I knew the answer: Fight. It’s always fight. UConn gave him a chance and he fought all 37 years. That fight is what defines this program and Len's legacy.”

Jill Gelfenbein Laufer is one of the top goalkeepers in program history, playing from 1991-1994. She helped the Huskies reach the Final Four in 1994 and ranks near the top of the UConn record books for keepers

“I have so many memories of Lenny it's kind of hard to know where to even begin. I played for Coach in the early 90s. During my senior year in high school I witnessed a historic game in Women's College Soccer as UConn knocked off UNC 3-2 in overtime and snapped UNC's 103 game unbeaten streak. As I watched that game in the pouring rain, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to play for UConn and be coached by Coach. I wanted that so badly for the high level of soccer and the camaraderie and intensity that I saw on the field. What I didn't realize was how much playing for Coach would impact my life off of the field. He had a different way of teaching from what I had ever experienced. He let the game teach us and by doing that he allowed us to take risks. He allowed us to make mistakes and learn from them. He allowed us to find ourselves and discover what we had inside of us. Even though he didn't always tell us, we knew that he believed in us. Through his example and his guidance he helped us become better leaders and better teammates. He created and cultivated an environment that allowed us to become the best versions of ourselves. We won a lot of games during my four years on the team and Coach is one of the winningest coaches in the history of Women's College Soccer. While I'm very proud of what we were able to accomplish and Coach's amazing record, that's not what I think of when I think of him. I think of him playing with us during practice and schooling us. He would have the time of his life every time he played which was evident from the big smile on his face and his contagious laughter. He rarely passed the ball which was funny and frustrating for us all at the same time! The man loves soccer and more importantly, he loves his players. He created a family. Anyone who plays for him will have similar stories. We will lovingly tease him for his accent and the way he calls us all kiddo or guys. We appreciate him for making us part of his family. Going to a UConn Women's Soccer game and seeing Coach is like coming home. He is always genuinely happy to see us and wants to talk. He wants to talk about the current team and he loves to reminisce and laugh about the old days. Things will be different at UConn without Coach on the sidelines but his impact will undoubtedly last forever. Thank you Coach from all of us. Thank you for giving us opportunities, thank you for believing in us, and thank you for loving us. Enjoy your retirement Coach!! You deserve it!”

Fellow goalkeeper Emily Armstrong came to UConn in 2013 after a season at Boston College and was critical in helping the Huskies win four conference titles from 2014-2016. In the AAC Tournament Final in 2014, she made the game-winning save in penalty kicks to bring the title back to Storrs.

“It was an honor to play for Coach Tsantiris during my four years at UConn. He was adamant that his players arrive each season fit and ready to fight. This expectation helped push me not only during the season, but all year round. He will be missed.”

Devin Prendergast was a key cog in the Huskies defense from 2010-2013 including an All-Conference honor as senior.

“I am very grateful to be able to play the sport I love under such a women's soccer legend. Lenny gave me a once in a lifetime opportunity and I know I will be forever grateful for the chance he gave me and the memories I made at UConn. I'll never forget coach's voice from the sidelines yelling ‘Devin, kiddo’. Or the endless times he told me, ‘Devin, you need to be fit’. He taught me the true meaning of fitness. It was such an honor to be able to play for coach and to be a part of his legacy!”

While UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma can appreciate Tsantiris’ accomplishments as a coach, he’ll miss Len’s personality the most.

“I’m going to miss Lenny at the meetings. There’s nobody that’s ever been at a coaches meeting that doesn’t have some story of Lenny asking some questions about some rules and NCAA regulations in his inimitable way of saying it. The Greek culture, the mindset, the accent, the whole thing, it’s a treat to listen to Len talk about the game of soccer and about coaching in general. You’re talking about maybe one of the top women’s soccer coaches in this country’s history at any level so I’m going to miss him. He was an incredible coach and he did a lot for a lot of kids and he was a really fun guy to have around and I’m really going to miss his company.”

To put in perspective how long Tsantiris’ career was, he was coaching when Kevin Ollie played at UConn and was still here when he returned as a coach. Although he didn’t play for Tsantiris, Ollie still looked up to him.

“Len is a great man. He was here when I was a player and I wish him the best of luck. I know he’ll be down in Florida somewhere soaking up the sun and he deserves it. He did a great job with our women’s soccer program and represented UConn to the fullest. We all look up to coach as a person that we want to emulate during our time at UConn.”

Tsantiris’ impact wasn’t just limited to the UConn community, though. Throughout his tenure, he faced hundreds of coaches, including some of the best in the sport.

Mick D’Arcy, the head coach at CCSU, faced off against Tsantiris and the Huskies 16 times. Over their time coaching against each other, a mutual respect was built.

“Len built a national powerhouse at UConn but it never went to his head. He is the most down to earth college coach that I know. When I think of Len I’m reminded of the poem If by Rudyard Kipling.

‘If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch.’

That sums him up. Make no mistake, he is one of the greatest college soccer coaches of all time but still one of the humblest men you will ever meet. His legacy goes well beyond the wins and losses. As a coach, he was a role model and inspiration to many of us and I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach against him and learn from him. The title of legend is bestowed too often to too many people. But when it comes to girls and women’s soccer in Connecticut there are few genuine legends. When I think of legends I think of Tony DiCicco. I think of Jerry Trecker. And I think of Len Tsantiris.”

Sadly, DiCicco died this past summer but his legacy lives on through his son Anthony, he took to Twitter to congratulate Tsantiris.

Chris Petrucelli, a national champion coach in 1995 with Notre Dame and now with SMU, also weighed in.