|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham. Kristen Pratt-Gerrein watches during a recent conditioning session at Walton-Verona High School. The 2006 Highlands graduate led the Bearcats girls soccer team to an All "A" 8th Region championship last fall.|
The 2006 Highlands graduate and former Georgetown College player took advantage of a good opportunity when it came open. That happened to be the head coach of the girls soccer program at the high school where she had already been teaching for four years in Walton-Verona.
"There's something to be said for working in the building and coaching the girls you teach," Gerrein said. "The relationship I have with this team is different than any team I've coached because I have them in the classroom so I get to see all the different parts of who these girls are. I get to see them personally, academically and on the soccer field. It's really been a cool experience."
Gerrein took the 2013 season off to focus on completing her Master's Degree in teaching at Xavier University. Gerrein had coached the Highlands junior varsity program in 2011 and 2012 after coaching the Cincinnati Kings Under-12 team during the 2010-11 school year. Gerrein will receive her Master's Degree on May 16.
Gerrein helped Highlands to its first of back-to-back state championships in 2005. She had eight assists and two goals for a total of 12 points that season. She has taken a lot of coaching philosophies from former Highlands Head Coach Nina Kearns.
"Kristen naturally has what it takes to be somebody to nurture people," Kearns said. "She always has had that natural spirit with her friends. You see it with her interacting with other people. I think she'll be a great coach because she's someone they can identify with. She'll be a role model for them. She'll be firm, but loving. Through her experience here, she recognizes the value of it and what you can add to their high school experience by being their mentor and being their coach."
Walton-Verona finished 11-9-1 in Gerrein's first season. The Bearcats won the 8th Region All "A" Tournament before losing 3-2 to Grant County in the 32nd District semifinals.
"It was just a good season given the fact there was so much newness," Gerrein said. "There were new coaches, new players and a different system. I think our girls responded well and came together as a team. We definitely have something special when it comes to team chemistry. Our girls are best friends on the field and off the field at least during the season. That's the most important part to me. Their soccer career will end. But the relationships they develop while playing the game won't end. To me, that was the biggest accomplishment of the season."
Gerrein along with fellow teacher and assistant coach Erica Ryan took over a program that went 7-8 the previous year also losing to Grant County in the district semifinals. Gerrein said numbers were a concern coming into the season considering the team had no subs in 2013. But Gerrein and Ryan talked some players into coming out.
The All "A" Tournament was something new to Gerrein. The scheduling can be tricky with the tournament depending on how soon teams are eliminated from it.
"For this past year, my (Director of Athletics Kyle Bennett) did all my scheduling," Gerrein said. "I like being part of the All 'A.' I've never been a part of it before. It gives our girls another opportunity to be in a really competitive tournament where there is a goal at the end they're trying to reach. With girls, having that extra motivation in the middle of the season helps define who our team is before the end tournament. It's like a mini-preparation for the district and regional tournaments. At first, I was confused about it because I was never a part of it when I played at Highlands. But that was probably the most exciting part of our season."
Walton-Verona returns a good number of players from that team. That includes rising juniors Taylor Cox and Sarah Johnston.
"She's definitely brought good, positive energy to the team after losing our coaches," Johnston said. "She's really supportive as a coach. She really pushes us to our limit and knows what to do and where she can take us. There's a really bright future ahead for Walton-Verona with her as head coach. That's for sure."
Some players have been able to participate in off-season conditioning. But others have been playing other sports.
Walton-Verona had had six winning season entering last year since starting the program in 2003. The best season came in 2010 when the Bearcats went 15-8-2 and won the 23rd District title before losing 2-0 to Bourbon County in the 12th Region title game. Walton-Verona beat Harrison County, 2-1 in the 12th Region semifinals for the first-ever region win in program history.
"She's been a role model to every single person on this team," Cox said. "They've only had positive things to say about us. They've had a positive mindset on the entire season whether we won or lost. We just really appreciate it."
They implemented a 4-4-2 (defender-midfielder-forward) formation. Walton-Verona had a flat backfield to start the season. But that changed as injuries mounted up.
"I'm sure a lot of people have that same issue," Gerrein said. "But when you're a small school and you're trying to build a program, injuries can really, really hurt you. I think we could have gone far if it weren't for injuries. My hope and prayer for this coming season is to stay healthy."
Gerrein knows the psychology of teen-aged girls can be tricky. But she has her unique way of approaching it.
"I played three sports in high school and played college soccer," Gerrein said. "I've had a number of coaches who've approached it in a number of ways. I've played with a lot of girls who respond differently to a lot of coaching styles. But the way I approach it is I get to know the girls. In the first few weeks, I try to figure out what works. Does yelling at them work? Does boosting their confidence work? The girls are really different. It's hard to figure it out."
The upcoming season will have a new challenge for Gerrein and her husband Chris Gerrein, a 2003 Newport Central Catholic graduate. They are expecting their first child on June 6, which is two days after school lets out on June 4.
"It's going to be really tough, but I'm going to take a page out of the Nina Kearns book and just make it work. She did it with her kids," Pratt-Gerrein said. "I believe she was pregnant with her oldest son Thomas just like I am. She had the baby and did a great job. It's going to be hard but my husband is very supportive. He is going to step in and pick our baby up from child care. I have a supportive family too. I have a lot of help. It'll just have to happen."
During the day, Pratt-Gerrein teaches Freshman English. She said there are a lot of joys to teaching.
"I really just like seeing positive growth in teen-agers. That's why I like teaching freshmen," Pratt-Gerrein said. "They change so much from the beginning of the school year to the end of the school year. I like to be a positive part of their growth."
The first practices for fall sports are July 15. The first games start in August.