NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Jason Neidell couldn’t be happier to be bringing his Western Kentucky women’s soccer team to the Yale Classic this weekend. Neidell is a 1994 Yale graduate and hasn’t been back to campus since the 1990’s.
“Due to the scheduling conflicts of being a college coach, it is nearly impossible to make it back to Yale this time of year. The only way to make it happen was to schedule a game.” he said. “Coach [Rudy] Meredith and I have been trying to set up this match for several years, and it just took a while for our schedules to mesh.”
Neidell, who is in his 14th season as the head coach of the Bowling Green, Ky., school, will get to spend the weekend in New Haven. The Hilltoppers play the Bulldogs on Friday at 7:30 p.m., following the Sacred Heart-Manhattan game, and then face Sacred Heart on Sunday at noon.
Neidell, who came to Yale from Tulsa, Okla., played for the Bulldogs in the early 1990s and was part of a successful era. In his sophomore year, Yale won the Ivy League title and advanced to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament, falling to Virginia 2-0 in Charlottesville. Neidell was an Academic All-Ivy selection in 1993 and was the recipient of the Walter Leemann Award, presented to the student-athlete who best exemplifies leadership, sportsmanship and team play.
“I have very fond memories of the people who made our program great – teammates, coaches, fans, support staff,” he said. “Most of my brightest memories are actually not of playing, but of camaraderie with my teammates and friends. I will always remember the trip to Virginia for the NCAA Elite Eight, and I loved the amazing environment playing at [Reese] Stadium on a Friday night in front of our home crowd.”
Neidell never intended to become a college coach when he enrolled at Yale, but an encounter with an alum made him think about what he wanted to do with his life.
“I vividly remember meeting an alum on campus one day who had a great outlook on life,” Neidell recalls. “The older gentleman said to me `Whatever you do in life, find something that you are truly passionate about and then figure out a way to make money doing it.’ That always stuck with me.”
The folks at Western Kentucky are certainly glad Neidell chose to enter the coaching profession. He has guided the Hilltoppers’ program since its inception in 2001 and continues to bring the program more recognition on the national stage. Twelve of Neidell's first 13 teams have recorded winning records. Of those 12 teams, 11 have won at least 10 matches. Neidell has led WKU to at least nine wins in eight-straight seasons, including Sun Belt Conference Tournament Championship appearances in 2008, 2011 and 2013. WKU finished in the top half of the Sun Belt Conference standings during each of Neidell's 13 seasons.
He guided the program to its first Sun Belt Conference regular season title in 2007 and led WKU to its second conference title during the 2013 season. Neidell was named the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year during each of his championship seasons.
The team Neidell is bringing to New Haven is 3-1 and has posted shutouts in three of the four games.
Neidell said he still follows the Yale soccer programs through the internet and newsletters. Two of his dearest friends were soccer teammates from his days at Yale.
And now, after nearly 20 years, he is finally returning to his alma mater.
“I am incredibly excited to share this part of my background and who I am with my own players,” he said.