In college athletics, bonds between teams are a given. No matter what sport student-athletes play, they all share a common thread of school pride and competitiveness. Those bonds are even stronger when it’s the men’s and women’s programs of the same sport. And for Colorado School of Mines soccer, the relationship between men’s and women’s teams goes a step further.
On November 8, 2015, both teams celebrated together after winning Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) Tournament championships. Although the two teams had won the tournament in the same year before, it was the first time they had done it together at home.
Leading the two programs are two men whose relationship goes back nearly 30 years. In the late 1980s, men’s head coach Frank Kohlenstein recruited women’s head coach Kevin Fickes to play at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Fickes starred for his 49ers, and the two kept in touch even after Kohlenstein came to Mines in 1998.
“One of the things he had said to us at our first team meeting my freshman year was, ‘If you play four years for me, I’ll do anything I can for you the rest of my life,’” recalled Fickes. “I was working at a hardwood flooring place part time, and I was miserable,” Fickes said of his post-graduate years in North Carolina. “But I remembered Frank had said that, so I called him and asked him if there was any work to do out there.”
The rest was history. Fickes joined Kohlenstein as his assistant coach with the men’s program in 1998. When the women’s team was established in 2005, the pair coached both teams before Fickes eventually took over the head women’s job in 2010. “[Fickes] played for me as a college player, so he’s like one of my kids,” Kohlenstein said. “I started the women’s program, so it’s really special when they do well.”
“Special” might be an understatement. Since 2010, the two have arguably been the most dominant soccer programs in their respective sides of the RMAC. The men have claimed two regular-season championships and four RMAC tournament titles in that span. And the women have a veritable dynasty going, with five consecutive tournament cups since 2011 and the last three regular-season crowns. The 2015 season was the first undefeated campaign ever for the men, and the women are coming off an appearance in the 2014 NCAA Final Four, the first by any team in Mines history.
The bonds are strong not only between coaches, but also among players—playing and practicing the same sport in the same stadium will do that. But for Joe Haines and Mel Westhoff, both senior captains of their respective teams, the ties run even deeper.
The two met when they were freshmen at a pre-season gathering of the men’s and women’s teams. More than four years later, after a home doubleheader at Stermole Stadium, Haines proposed to his long-time girlfriend with some help from his teammates. As the men’s team sang their traditional post-game fight song in front of the crowd, senior Jared Herselman plucked a surprised Westhoff out of the crowd. The men’s team lined up on either side of Haines, and he popped the question in front of both teams.
For the record, Westhoff said yes. “We’re able to go home and talk about games, we have to schedule our dinners around practice, and we have huge support from our teammates,” Westhoff said. “It’s a huge part of our relationship.”