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University of Wisconsin-Superior men’s soccer coach Joe Mooney, seen here showing off the WIAC championship plaque, is the 2013 Superior Telegram Sportsperson of the Year. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

2013 TELEGRAM SPORTSPERSON OF THE YEAR: Mooney’s on the money

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By Don Leighton

For The Telegram

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The Lance and Billy Sportsperson of the Year for 2013 is Joe Mooney, head soccer coach at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Mooney is a special coach, an inspirational instructor of young people and a dedicated family man with area roots from two incredible and loving parents.

In 2013, Mooney and the men’s soccer team reached new heights of success as the Yellowjackets won the first ever Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship with a 2-1 win over UW-Oshkosh.

The UWS men’s soccer program started in 1998. Mooney played for the Yellowjackets for four seasons before graduating in 2004. His coaching career began in 2007 as a volunteer assistant at UWS, and in the spring of 2008 he became the head coach.

“Joe has been a model coach for me at UWS, his insight and expertise in the sport is second to none,” said UWS athletic director Steve Nelson. “What stands out most in Joe is his passion for his student athletes and his passion for UWS. Without a doubt, I would rank him as one of the premier young coaches in the entire nation.

“Yes, he has plenty to improve upon but that is the nature of the game. To me, Joe is a person I would hire in any situation. He has skills that would lead him to success in any endeavor he decided to become involved with. Joe Mooney is a winner in all facets of life. I am proud to call him our soccer coach. Joe deserves this award and I am extremely happy for him.”

Mooney will lose six seniors to graduation, all of them three- or four-year starters. Nate Engel was all-conference for two years; Matt Kelley was WIAC defender of the year; Ben Royce was All-WIAC for two years, WIAC leading goal scorer for 2012 and tied for leading scorer in 2013; Alex Young was All-WIAC for two years. Brian Chapman and Alberto Rivero Garcia round out the graduating seniors.

UWS finished with a 12-6-2 record in 2013, the most wins ever, and Mooney was named conference coach of the year.

He has a very good returning group in Brian Grand, Matt Elder, John Levenick, Chase Carey and Ben Kasper and recruiting is going very well because of the program’s recent success of the program.

Mooney’s success is also noticed by his peers at UWS, including Melissa Hanson, the UWS women’s soccer coach and assistant softball coach.

“Coach Mooney has developed into a great leader within his team, on campus and in the soccer community, and I have been privileged to be able to work with him,” Hanson said. “Coach always has such a positive energy/aura about him and his leadership style totally fits his outgoing and uplifting personality.

“His program’s success is the result of hard work, strength of character and commitment to excellence. I really admire the fact that he is a players’ coach — he coaches for his student-athletes and he has developed and maintains strong relationships with each of them (past, present and future) and their families.”

UWS women’s basketball coach Don Mulhern also thinks Mooney is the perfect recipient of the award.

“He exemplifies being a gentleman as a coach and is a great role model for our students at UWS.  I am proud to be able to have him as a friend,” Mulhern said.

UWS sports information director Jon Garver is also proud of Mooney and his accomplishments.

“As great of a coach as he is, Joe is an even better person,” Garver said. “He has systematically built his program, has been a dogged recruiter and has brought some very good players to UWS. He knows what to do with his players and puts them in a position to succeed. The result is what you’ve been seeing on the field, a program that is a consistent winner and on the cusp of having some success in the national tournament.

“Our soccer program has become a destination for top talent. Players love playing for him and want to come to Superior to be a part of his program. Good things happen to good people, and that is why you are seeing Joe and his program be successful.”

Mooney said his success begins with his family.

“Family is everything to me,” Mooney said. “I am so fortunate to have a wife who understands how important these young men are to me. My job takes me away from home quite a bit, and Rachael is nothing but supportive of everything I do.”

He also credits his players.

“My philosophy is to make everything about the players,” Mooney said. “They set goals, tell me what kind of team they want to be, provide true leadership, work hard, display class, are good teammates, dedicate themselves to our program and have fun, which is important. I want my players, win or lose, to go on with their lives and accomplish great things and say that being a Yellowjacket soccer player helped them. I just want to somehow deflect all of the credit to my players; without them I’m not the coach of the year. The award really should read ‘Coach of the TEAM of the Year.’

“Watching our guys storm out onto the field at Oshkosh is the best soccer memory I will ever have. They won that game, not me,” Mooney said. “I’m so thankful to be working with these young men. I tell people all the time that I have the best job in the world. I get to hand-pick the 31 guys who I get to go to work with every day. I certainly don’t take that for granted, and there is always room for improvement. It’s not hard to be good at your job when you love going to work every day.”

Mooney’s roots begin with his parents, Sue and Rick, who are from Madison and met at Edgewood College the first year it became a co-ed school during the 1970s. The ratio of women to men was 100 to 1. Great odds, and Rick made a great choice as he won the heart of Sue, got married, settled in Spooner and raised three sons.

Retired teacher, coach and journalist Carlo Kumpula has known Rick and Sue for many years and commented on the Mooney family.

“I worked for many years with Sue. She and I led several eighth-grade student trips to Washington D.C., New York and Gettysburg,” Kumpula said. “Rick is an outstanding photographer and together they have been the heart and soul of the Spooner soccer program. All three of the Mooney boys were excellent students. The entire Mooney family has for years been an asset to the Spooner School District and to the Spooner community.”

There was no soccer program in Spooner until the Mooney family helped it become a reality, and Joe and his brothers Bog and Ben played soccer for their parents for many years.

Mooney and his wife, Rachael, who also played soccer for Joe’s parents, were married on Sept. 20, 2008 and have a daughter, Alexa, who will be a year old in a month.

I’ll bet she plays soccer.

Opinions and/or story ideas can be e-mailed to dleigh1273@aol.com.

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