In the storied history of UC San Diego Women's Soccer, few players have left a greater mark than Dawn Lee. Manning the sweeper position from 1992-94, the San Diego native ruled the backline for Coach Brian McManus's Tritons. In her three years, UCSD won at an 86.1% clip and reached three NCAA Division III Final Fours. "Dawn was a very good player who read the game extremely well and she was hard as nails," recalled McManus, now in his 23rd season at UCSD. "She was always 'coaching on the park,' helping, working and talking." It turns out that Lee was simply providing a preview of her career as a high school soccer coach. After graduating from UCSD with a psychology degree in 1995, she worked as an assistant coach under her father, Butch, at San Diego's University High School. Lee assumed the head coaching reins when he passed away in 1998, building on the winning tradition he established while becoming an outstanding coach in her own right. First at University and now Cathedral Catholic (University moved its campus and changed its name), Lee has racked up a record of 195-68-39 and won nine consecutive Western League titles and seven CIF San Diego Division III crowns. In 2008, her Cathedral Catholic squad was the first team from San Diego to win a CIF Regional title and finished the season ranked fourth nationally. Along the way, Lee has garnered a plethora of personal honors and was named the National High School Athletic Coaches Association (NHSACA) National Coach of the Year for 2009, an award she was presented at a recent event in Minneapolis. Still an active player, Lee took time recently to share her thoughts on her coaching career and her time at UC San Diego.
Q: Was coaching always something you aspired to do? If so, why?
LEE: I don’t think I ever really thought about coaching until a parent called Brian (McManus) and asked if he knew of anyone that would be interested in coaching a girls team. Brian recommended me and the rest is HISTORY!
Q: What role did your father play in your development as a coach?
LEE: I was lucky enough to play for my father for a number of years as well as serve as his assistant coach for three years so I got to learn hands on what made him so successful. I took many of those things with me when I started coaching.
Q: What do you think he would have said about the honor bestowed upon you by the NHSACA?
LEE: I’m sure he would be very proud and would have let me and everyone else know about it!
Q: Were you surprised by the recognition?
LEE: I was VERY surprised. I knew I was going to get recognized as Region 8 Coach of the Year, which was surprising in itself, but didn’t think in my wildest dreams that I’d be named National Coach of the Year.
Q: As a coach, what gives you the greatest satisfaction?
LEE: There are a lot of things that give me satisfaction as a coach. To name a few… Having players return for the alumni game, getting email/Facebook updates about how everyone is doing in their lives with soccer or after soccer, hearing stories about seasons past with both me as a coach and my dad, and seeing the players still close after many years.
Q: Is there one particular skill that you found you needed to improve on when moving from assistant coaching into your first head coaching position?
LEE: Probably dealing with parents. My dad always got to deal with that fun stuff and I just had to coach and go home. It was tough my first year of tryouts. I actually cried when I had to make cuts because I felt so bad. I still hate that week.
Q: What is your fondest memory of playing at UC San Diego?
LEE: WOW… So many great memories, not sure I could just name one. Probably the thing that sticks in my mind the most was getting to play for the NCAA Championship at home my senior year. You couldn’t ask for a better way to go out!
Q: What did you draw from Brian McManus during your three years at UCSD that has helped you in your own coaching career?
LEE: He, like my dad, had the talent of getting the best out of every player be they a starter or your fourth person off the bench. I’ve tried to do the same in my coaching career. He also made it fun. We worked our backsides off but we all enjoyed it because he made it that way.
Q: Not to bring a up a sore subject, but the three UCSD teams you played on had a combined record of 43-4-7 yet never won an NCAA Championship. Is that something that bothers you?
LEE: Yes, it always bothers me and especially during alumni weekend when the national championship teams of years past are getting recognized. But there’s nothing I can do about it now. As I always tell my teams, I was lucky to go to the Final Four all three years that I played at UCSD. Not many players or teams can brag about that! We were NCAA Regional Champs three years in a row and had an unbeaten streak of 35 games… Sure it’s not a national championship but it’s still not too shabby.
Q: You played in one of the great games ever contested at UCSD, an unfortunate 4-3 overtime loss to Trenton State in the finals of the 1994 NCAA Division III Championship. What do you remember about that day?
LEE: An amazing weekend and day! I think all of us just felt so much relief to finally get over the semifinal jinx that had plagued us for the two years prior. I remember that I was full of emotions, one because it was the national championship but it also hit me hard that it was my last game ever as a collegiate athlete. Nothing prepares you for that. I can recall that day so well from the talk I had with all the girls and thanking them for making my dream come true, to our warm up, to being down 2-0 in a matter of minutes, to me scoring a goal, to us tying it up, to us going ahead and looking at the clock only to see that we still had 26 minutes, to them tying it up, the OT, the missed chances we had in OT and the final goal that seemed to trickle into the goal in slow motion to end our season. Man, I just got emotional writing all that! Ugh! Haha.
Q: What from your playing style do you try to instill in your current players?
LEE: Grit, passion, fun, and a “never give up” attitude.
Q: Describe how you got your start playing soccer and how it compares to the path of young girls today?
LEE: My parents just signed me up in a rec league when I was five years old and the rest is history. I fell in love with the sport and have been playing ever since. We didn’t have 50 million club teams to choose from… You played rec and then as you got older you could "try out" for the few club teams that there were and if you made it, great, if you didn’t, you continued to play rec. Much different from today!
Q: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not coaching soccer?
LEE: Playing soccer… Haha! I also enjoy swimming, running, and golfing.
Q: What are your career objectives going forward?
LEE: I love where I’m at right now and what I’m doing so I don’t see it changing much in the future. No, I don't want to coach at the collegiate level!!! Haha.