Chris Neal excited to coach hometown team

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Once a Seahawk, always a seahawk. Chris Neal returns to UNCW to take over the women’s soccer program after long time coach Paul Cairney was let go amid sexual assault allegations. It’s not just his alma mater, it’s home.

“I can’t tell you how excited we are to be home.” Neal said.

New UNCW Women’s Soccer Coach Chris Neal spoke with the media today for the first time since taking over the program.

A Wilmington native, Neal attended UNCW in the 90’s and got his start with the soccer program, not as a player, but as an assistant under the team’s first Coach Keith Cammidge.

“We had a nice little talk about joining the team,” Neal said. “Coach said ‘I have a nice little option for you. You will be coaching our first year NCAA Women’s team.’ It was just the right place at the right time.”

From there, Neal has put together 23 successful seasons coaching men’s and women’s soccer, including becoming the winningest coach in Elon Women’s Soccer history.

After a brief stint in Arkansas last year, it’s back to the CAA for Neal, this time in teal.

“I had the opportunity to speak to the team before the announcement,” Neal said. “Those conversations have gone really well. I’ve been able to reach out and touch base with all of them individually as well to get to know them and for them to get to know me. All incoming freshman have signed letters of intent and nobody transferred out in the spring. The staff did a tremendous job of moving this team forward.”

The hometown legacy becomes the third coach in team history looking to move the program past the Paul Cairney era that ended with sexual assault allegations and his ultimate departure.

For UNCW Athletic Director Jimmy Bass, Neal sends the team in the right direction.

“Our whole concern has been the welfare of our student athletes in that program,” Bass said. “We want to have a competitive program, we want to compete in the CAA, we want to go to the NCAA., but we want to make sure that their student’s get a tremendous education too. They know that we’re very sincere about that so I think their comfortable with what we’ve done.”

The women’s soccer team has seen plenty of success in their 25 year history. Now it’s time for Chris Neal to leave his mark.

“I look forward to, and I’m determined to build on that tradition and legacy.” Neal said.

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