Steamboat Springs At this point, the walls of the Colorado State University women’s soccer offices are empty, begging to be filled.
“You sit in the office, and there is nothing on the wall,” 2006 Steamboat Springs High School graduate Kelly Labor said. “There has not been any decorating to do. We don’t have trophies, pictures or articles. It’s basically a blank book. But we’re thinking about filling that book.”
The former Steamboat all-state and Conference Player of the Year has started to make a rapid climb up the coaching ladder.
After finishing her playing career at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and spending the past three seasons as an assistant coach at Regis University, Labor is moving to her biggest challenge yet.
In January, Colorado State announced it would add women’s soccer as a Division I sport. In February, it hired longtime University of Colorado coach Bill Hempen. In March, Hempen hired Labor.
“I accepted the position before I knew how much I was getting paid,” Labor said. “I was actually driving home from a Regis game when Bill called. He said, ‘Do you want to come to CSU?’ I said, ‘absolutely.’”
The move follows Labor’s lifelong love of the sport.
In 2006, Labor’s freshman year at Regis, she finished as an all-region selection, was second in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in points and was the conference’s Freshman of the Year. It was a breakout start to what looked like a tremendous career.
But Labor wanted more. She wanted to play Division I soccer.
So she transferred to UNLV. Although she wasn’t a star for the Rebels, she was a steady player and eventually earned a degree in psychology.
After her playing days were done, Labor wanted to go to graduate school and coach. She found that opportunity back at Regis.
She earned her master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology, a degree essentially designed for coaching in the business world.
Labor said she was interested in getting into business but wanted to keep coaching. She had known CSU’s Hempen from when she played for the Olympic Development Program in high school. She also had contact with him out of high school and when she transferred to UNLV.
She was coaching an Olympic Development Program in Las Vegas when she saw Hempen. Later, at a coaches conference in Indianapolis, Labor reached out to Hempen about an opening on his staff.
At the time, Labor was coaching club soccer in Westminster.
“To start a program is a rare opportunity these days,” Labor said. “There won’t be a whole lot more startup programs. And Bill is a phenomenal coach. That was a huge draw for me to work for a coach like that.”
Hempen started the program at Duke, made the 1992 National Championship game and helped the University of Colorado to its lone Big 12 championship in 2003. He ranks 17th in NCAA Division I history for career wins.
After finding out in March that she would be joining Hempen, Labor has been a road warrior recruiting from San Diego to Seattle.
The Rams, which will play in the Mountain West Conference next year, will comprise mostly transfer players.
One would think expectations would be tempered with a first-year Division I program, but Labor said that’s absolutely not the case.
She said the team plans to be among the top eight in the conference to make the end-of-season conference tournament.
“We want to be competitive right out of the gate,” she said. “Get rid of all excuses that we’re a first-year program, and we’ve made it clear to recruits and those in the athletic program. We want kids that want to win right away.”
Labor admits some day she’d like to move on and be the head coach at a Division I school.
For now, though, she’s content learning under Hempen at a school that is hungry to grow a winner.
“Division I is the atmosphere I want and I need,” she said. “It’s that type of athlete that you recruit to a Division I. That’s who I need to coach. They love the game, they love competing, they love the sacrifice it takes to be the best. I need that to have my passion for the game.”
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com