Like any good head coach, Scott Grzenda of the University of Delaware women’s soccer program feels like a proud parent every time he hits the field with his players in tow. 

But this season held special significance for Grzenda, who just happens to be the only head coach this family has ever known. 

The 2014 season marked a special milestone as Grzenda and the hundreds of players who have suited up for him have celebrated the 25th anniversary of the varsity program. 

“In all honesty, you do feel like a proud parent,” said Grzenda, who has led this year’s team to a 7-8-1 thus far. “I’ve watched the program grow from a club side to a great team in a very competitive conference. We started in 1990 with a handful of very competitive club players coached by a group of volunteers. Now, in 2014, I’ve witnessed the upgrade of our stadium (thanks to a generous and historic gift from Stuart & Suzanne Grant), we are practicing on beautiful Bermuda grass practice fields, and we have full-time assistant coaches and support personnel.”

This year’s UD Homecoming Weekend marked a special celebration for the program. 

Former players and assistant coaches gathered for a tailgate party prior to the Delaware vs. Towson football game on Oct. 18 and reunited later in the evening for a reception at the Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille on South Main Street in Newark.

The following day, those former members in attendance were honored at halftime of the Delaware vs. James Madison women’s soccer game at Grant Stadium. Over 20 women's soccer alumni returned to campus for Homecoming weekend to take part in the 25th anniversary celebrations

“Throughout those years I’ve had the opportunity to watch many young women develop and mature right before my eyes,” said Grzenda, himself a three-time all-conference midfielder for the Blue Hens in 1984-86 for head coach Loren Kline. ”Now I’m starting to watch their children compete. It’s a great feeling to watch the UD soccer program expand and still keep that feeling of family.”

And thanks to Grzenda’s likeable personality, it always has been about family and about having fun. But it has also been about hard work and being successful on the field and in the classroom.

“Being part of the 25th anniversary of Delaware women’s soccer is an incredible honor,” said current UD standout senior defender Allegra Gray, a two-time all-conference selection and the 2013 Colonial Athletic Association Scholar-Athlete of the Year. “Delaware women’s soccer is more than just a sports team, it is truly a family. I was instantly attracted to Delaware because of its emphasis on the balance of athletics and academics. It truly is the embodiment of the ideal student-athlete.”

With the sport of soccer and women’s sports in general expanding by leaps and bounds, bringing varsity soccer to the University of Delaware was a natural fit. 

In 1986, the University Athletic Governing Board approved varsity status for the program pending adequate funding. 

It took a few years, but the financial support finally arrived and women’s soccer was formally declared a varsity sport in July of 1990, becoming the UD athletic program’s first new sport since cross country was elevated to varsity status in 1981. 

Things moved quickly from there. 

Grzenda, who had served as a graduate assistant for both the men’s and women’s program at Roanoke (Va.) College and was coaching boys high school soccer in Virginia while completing his master’s degree, was hired as head coach in August by then Athletic Director Edgar Johnson and took over a program that had flourished as a club entity the previous six years, posting a combined record of 64-29-5 under volunteer coach Peter Rees, a professor in the UD geography department. 

Still new to his first collegiate head coaching stint, Grzenda found success immediately, leading that first team to a record of 14-2-1 as an NCAA Division I independent. 

The Hens played a mix of varsity and club teams during that initial season and enjoyed one enviable streak in which the Blue Hens posted a shutout in eight straight games. 

The program then joined the North Atlantic Conference along with Delaware’s other athletics programs the following year. 

During his 25-year tenure, Grzenda has been the model of consistency. 

He has led his squads to 229 victories, 17 winning seasons, 11 seasons with 10 or more victories, and 12 conference playoff appearances. The team has failed to win at least seven games just three times during those 24 seasons. 

And even though a conference championship has eluded the Blue Hens, Grzenda’s teams have advanced to the conference championship game three times and to the semifinals on five other occasions. 

“I’m really waiting for that CAA title and first NCAA appearance,” Grzenda said. “We’ve had some great teams, some second places, and some very hard losses, but making the dance would be something special.”

Individually, the numbers have been impressive as well. 

Seven players have earned all-region honors, seven have been named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District team, 61 have earned all-conference honors, and nine more have been selected to the conference all-rookie team. 

As for Grzenda, he entered the season ranked No. 46 among all active NCAA Division I head coaches and third among CAA mentors with 222 victories. He has been named conference Coach of the Year three times, earning the award in the NAC in 1993 and 1994 and in the CAA during the 2005 campaign. 

Scott Grzenda had been UD's coach since the program's inception in 1990.“There are so many moments that have made me smile, laugh, and even cry,” said Grzenda while reminiscing about his career. “But there are two that really touched my heart. The first week of our first season the players were getting ready for practice and I noticed a junior who had already played two years on the club team getting ready to tape her ankle. I asked her what she was up to and she said her ankle was sore. I asked her why she didn’t go get it evaluated in the training room and she looked up at me and with all seriousness said ‘we’re allowed to go to the training room?’ It was one of those moments where you knew Delaware was providing something special.

“The second was a match against Hofstra (in 2011) when the program earned its 200th win,” said Grzenda. “It was special because it was against a good friend of mine. We were home on a Sunday and I was able to share the win with my family as well as the players. This program is truly one big family.”

Using the word family to describe the UD women’s soccer program isn’t something uttered only by Grzenda. 

Talk to any of his former and current players and you will hear that word used over and over. 

“Although I am no longer coaching or playing soccer, I think about my playing days at Delaware often,” said Beth Hatt (Burkhardt), a three-time all-region selection in 1994-96 who became the first women’s soccer player inducted into the UD Athletics Hall of Fame in 2009. “We fought hard for everything we got in the early days to try to establish a respectable women’s soccer program. I am proud of how strong the program is today and am thankful for Coach Grzenda and the current players for carrying on the traditions. He wanted us to be successful on the field, but also genuinely cared about us as people and we knew it. 

“I cherish the friendships that I made with my teammates and Coach Grzenda,” said Hatt, who now lives in Romansville, Pa. and is a middle school science teacher in the Downingtown Area School District. “We are like a family. Our parents traveled to all of the games from Maine to Virginia. Many of my teammates are my closest friends to this day. I cherished every opportunity I had to play soccer at a high level with my best friends. I loved it all and wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Lara Bottone (Krall), a standout on the club team who made the transition to varsity and served as co-captain of Grzenda’s second team in 1991, could not agree more. 

“I think about my days playing soccer at Delaware all the time,” said Bottone, a 1992 Delaware graduate who now resides in Lincroft, N.J. with her husband and three sons, one of them a starting goalkeeper on his high school soccer team. “I have so many great memories of my teammates and coaches. We were really like a family. We got through grueling three-a-days together, running the stadium stairs, and fixing flat tires on I-95. We talked, sung, and studied on the van rides. We iced shin splints, bruises, and rolled ankles. We played our hearts out for each other in the blazing sun or in the freezing rain.

“We practiced and played behind the outdoor pool next to the cows,” remembers Bottone of her days with the club team. “We drove our own cars to games at other colleges, beat many of them, and drove back to Delaware. When we became a varsity sport we were living it up. We had real uniforms and the use of a locker room. Looking back, I guess we really were pioneers of this program. We didn’t set out to be pioneers. We were just a group of young women who loved to play soccer.”

Now 25 years later, the happy memories remain clear in each player’s heart and mind. Many more memories undoubtedly rose to the surface when the “family” reunited back on campus this past weekend. 

“When I first started back in 1990 I was right out of graduate school and the thought of being anywhere for 25 years never crossed my mind,” he said. “I always tell recruits that the University of Delaware is a special place, that once you come you may never leave. Now that 25 years have passed, I couldn’t see myself anywhere else.”