By Gillian Baker / Full360 Digital Producer
After coaching for four consecutive years at East Stroudsberg University as an assistant coach, Shaquille Stephenson, will now take on the role of head coach for Delaware Valley University’s men’s soccer program.
Following the 2022 fall season, DelVal men’s soccer coach Chris Zirpoli left the program after being with the team since 2017. Zirpoli returned to DelVal to become a coach himself after graduating from the school in 2006. In his time coaching at DelVal, he grew the program to be a competitive one, even leading the team to their first conference win in 13 years this 2022 season.
With Zirpoli’s leave, DelVal Athletics staff worked quickly to find a new head coach for the men’s team. Zirpoli left in January of 2023, the beginning of team’s “spring season.” To ensure the team didn’t miss out on important training during this time, coach Stephenson was hired soon after.
Stephenson comes from a competitive school, as the East Stroudsburg Warriors have gone 27-21-6 (combined) in all of his four seasons coaching, and have made the PSAC tournament all four years as well. Stephenson additionally coaches for Lehigh Valley United, an established soccer club for pre-college athletes.
Stephenson confidently doesn’t see it as a challenge, but an opportunity.
“When I spoke to the team, I expressed to them that I wanted to build on some of the traditions that are in place and start new ones. I want each and every player to have a first-class experience, from the moment they arrive on campus, until graduation day,” Stephenson said.
Though having a good environment is one of the most beneficial things for a collegiate team, arguably the main thing DelVal men’s soccer could improve upon is their record. In their 2022 season, they had the most success going 6-9 overall, which is their best season in the last eight years. The Aggies held some success in out of conference play, but their competition in the MAC Freedom conference landed them in eighth place out of nine teams. Coming from such a successful school with a higher ranked program, it is assumed Coach Shaquille will bring over his tactics to DelVal hopefully to achieve the same success.
Stephenson said, “My experiences at ESU have prepared me very well for this opportunity.” ESU men’s soccer is a highly decorated program, even making the NCAA Tournament in Stephenson’s first year on the coaching staff (2017). Bringing some of that knowledge over to DelVal, the future of the program seems promising knowing this. Stephenson continued, saying “My ideal plan is to cultivate a competitive atmosphere within the team, be proactive as a coaching staff, and establish a winning identity.”
Though Stephenson’s knowledge and talent is imperative to have during the spring season, one of the biggest concerns for the future of the program is recruiting. Beginning the second semester, it is prime time for coaches to start recruiting their freshman class for the next season. Because Stephenson got settled in late, time was missed, and he was now somewhat behind other coaches who had a full window for recruiting.
My coaching staff and I have been working tirelessly to find the right players that fit the vision of the program,” Stephenson said. “Our main objectives are to improve, and punch above our weight regarding the strength of schedule.”
Although time was missed for both Coach Stephenson and the men’s team, they started their program back up almost right away following Coach Shaquille’s arrival. Not only did the boys on the team keep working during their time without a coach, but they too introduced him to their ways and their plans when Stephenson was settled in. Not only does Stephenson need to establish himself as a coach and express his values, but the members of the team also to have things about themselves and their program that they want to introduce to their new coach.
Coach Shaquille Stephenson has proved thus far to be a great addition to the team as their spring season has come underway. Athletically and out of soccer, Stephenson has already built relationships with his players and begun directing them in the direction of the bright future he has planned for the team. The men’s soccer 2023 season in the fall will put Coach Shaquille in the spotlight, and those apart of the athletics community are excited to see where the program will go.
The DelVal men’s soccer team will compete in their spring play day on Saturday, April 16, at Swarthmore College. DelVal will compete against Wilmington University and Swarthmore College during the day.