Former Way-Co, Naples, Houghton College athlete now coaching at Pitt-Brad

COHOCTON — Sport is bigger than sports.

For Melissa Lincoln, a Wayland-Cohocton native, a four-year Houghton College student-athlete and a recent Pitt-Brad hire, coaching women’s soccer is a way to mold character, build self-esteem, and maybe take some of that raw, untapped potential and use it moving forward in life.

“I learned how the game of soccer can be used to build relationships with people and share my faith in God,” Lincoln reflected. 

Her track record speaks for itself. Just ask her college coach, David Lewis. Coach Lewis says that in his 27-year tenure as the Houghton College head women’s soccer coach, he has never had an assistant coach do a better job than Coach Lincoln.

“Every detail of her role was performed well,” said Coach Lewis. “All of her game-day responsibilities were carried out flawlessly and she exhibits great people-skills, adding to the team chemistry among our players.”

In 2016 Lincoln was instrumental in helping the Houghton College’s women’s soccer program have one of it’s most memorable seasons.

With Lincoln’s presence in the locker room, mentoring young players (and any college coach will tell you that mentoring extends well-beyond the playing field), Houghton was able to progressively improve a young group of athletes until they eventually, unexpectedly, reached the Final Four of the NCCAA D-1 National Tournament.

That team began as the 8th seed, but still won its pool (including wins over the No. 2 and No. 5 teams along the way). Coach Lewis gives Lincoln much of the credit.

“Melissa was a four-year player here at Houghton and participated in four National Tournaments,” said Lewis. “She is accustomed to soccer at a high-level and does an exceptional job relating match concepts to player skill levels.”

But it wasn’t always high-level competition for Coach Lincoln. In the early 2000s she was just a Wayland-Cohocton student looking for ways to play the game.

“It was difficult to play for a club because the closest ones were at least an hour away, and having four brothers, it just wasn’t possible for my family,” Lincoln recalled.

But soccer families find a way. Noting the demand for club soccer, but the lack of availability, Lincoln’s father decided he’d take matters into his own hands and start his own soccer club.

Word of mouth travels fast and before long a decent club was formed out of local players who couldn’t get enough soccer. A great number of college soccer players were formed out of the unofficial Cohocton club league of the early 2000s, but no one can claim to have been closer to its origins than Lincoln.

In many ways it seems Lincoln, who grew up playing against her four brothers, didn’t choose soccer — soccer chose her.

“The core of the teams were kids from Wayland-Cohocton, but as people started hearing about it we got kids from Naples, Dansville, and throughout the years we ended up getting players from the Rochester area, Wellsville, Hornell, Alfred, and Houghton,” said Lincoln of the league her father started.

It didn’t take long for her to figure out that soccer was her future. She once wrote a letter to herself in 6th grade themed: “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” The letter was presented to her upon graduating from Naples High School, where she played her junior and senior season.

It read, “Attending college and playing soccer at Houghton College.”

Even if she hadn’t always known she’d end up at Houghton, Houghton would be trying to land her. Lincoln was a standout in high school as a player for both Wayland-Cohocton and Naples.

Lincoln’s prowess on the offensive end earned her the honor of the 2010 Fingerlakes West Player of the Year and a spot on the 2010 Girl’s All New York State Team.

As good of a player as she was on the field, it was her technical knowledge of the game that separated her from the pack. Lincoln’s high-school coach, Frank Gleichauf, was quick to say that Melissa belongs in a certain category where, as he says, “The sky is the limit.”

“Her work ethic, attitude and ambition keeps her moving up the ranks,” said Gleichauf. “Given enough time, Melissa will find a way to move any soccer program in the right direction.”

Putting all Southern Tier athletic accomplishments aside, when talking with Coach Lincoln it’s clear those accolades are beside the point. For Lincoln, the most rewarding part of her journey has been the people and places she has been able to meet, see, and as they repeatedly seem to report, change for the better.

While at Houghton College Lincoln was able to play for the Chicago Eagles, which is a Missionary Athletes International organization that promotes character development through sport around the world.

“Each year we took a two week trip to Brazil to play soccer, run camps and clinics, and serve the people in many different ways," said Lincoln. “I learned how the game of soccer can be used to build relationships with people and share my faith in God.”

Maybe Pitt-Brad Athletics is getting itself ready for something of a “Lincoln Era.” Coach Lincoln’s little brother, Alex, will be starting as a freshman this fall and plans to play soccer.

“Before my sister started coaching the women’s soccer team I hadn’t heard of Pitt-Brad, but now I’m excited for pre-season to start and to join the program,” said Alex.

During her inaugural season in 2017, Lincoln led Pitt-Bradford to an 8-8-2 overall record and a 3-4-2 mark in AMCC action. Under Lincoln's guidance, goalkeeper Sarah Dailey and midfielders Meghan Stuck (Bolivar-Richburg) and Kaitlyn Williams earned All-AMCC honors.

The best could be yet to come.