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Life is a Journey - A Story of Triumph of Misty Aird


MCKENZIE, Tenn. - We all know life is a journey. There are things we can control and things that we cannot. It’s how we respond to those in the end which defines us. No one knows this better than Coach Misty Aird who has coached the women’s soccer program at Bethel University for the last 24 seasons. 

Coach Aird is in her 24th season with the Lady Wildcats. She is 11th in the NAIA among active coaches. Aird is 256-171- 27 overall. Aird has more wins than any woman ever in NAIA history. 

Bethel qualified for the NAIA National Tournament for three consecutive years: in 2003, 2004, and 2005 with an "Elite Eight" finish in 2004.

In 2006, Coach Aird reached the 100-win plateau. She won her 200th game at Bethel in 2017. She was named KIAC "Coach of the Year" in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2005. She also received the honor of NAIA Region XII "Coach of the Year" in 2003 and 2004.

After a few lean years, the Lady Cats began to turn things around in 2017. 

In 2017 the Lady Cats enjoyed their best season since 2012, going 12-6 overall. The Lady Cats won their first seven matches of the season. Four of their six losses were by one goal. They took No. 1 Martin Methodist to overtime before losing 2-1 in the SSAC Semi-finals.

Then in 2018 Coach Aird and her life were turned upside down. She was involved in a major car accident as she lost precious family members and had to fight for her own life. 

After several surgeries, months of rehab and hard work she was back with her Lady Wildcats as they opened their season in August later that year at Wildcat Stadium in McKenzie, hosting the Lynx of Lindenwood University-Belleville. It was fitting the Lady Cats handed their coach an emotional 2-1 overtime victory.

The Lynx jumped out to a 1-0 lead seven minutes into the contest on a goal by LUB's Juliana Stratford. The score held up with the Lynx leading at the break 1-0. 

Both teams played hard defensively with both squads held at bay offensively in the second half. That until the Lady Cats found some late magic with just under three minutes left in regulation as Jodi Butler scored on a rebound to tie the match at 1-1 sending the affair into overtime.

At the 6:32 mark of the extra period Janine Dennis drilled a penalty kick into the upper left-hand corner for the Bethel victory.

It was not just another regular season win for the program and Coach Aird. It was a win for the human spirit and willingness to keep fighting and not give up. Coach Aird, despite life-threating injuries fought her way back to be with her team and her young ladies fought back in the last three minutes after staring defeat in the face and honored her fight with an emotional victory.

Coach Aird commented on the win. "I am so proud of these ladies. They fought so hard and would not be denied. It will be a win I will forever hold in my heart."

It was Coach Aird's 201st career victory and there was nothing about it that will ever be ordinary or just another win.

It’s been a long journey to get back to the NAIA National Championships. After their dramatic victory on November 25, the Lady Cats are back. The Lady Wildcats advanced to the NAIA National Championship Final Site with a 5-4 penalty kick shootout victory at Southeastern Saturday in Lakeland, Florida. Regulation ended in a 3-3 draw.

The Lady Cats overcame adversity and found a way to keep their season alive.

Bethel (11-3-3) advanced to the Round of 16 in Foley, Ala. and will play Spring Arbor on November 28th.

The Cats led 1-nil at the break after a Natasha Dudley goal with 13 seconds left in the half.  It was one of only two shots Bethel had in the first 45 minutes.

In the 55th minute, Bethel took a 2-0 lead after a goal by Kelly Nunes on a corner kick by Kalina Stanisic.

The Fire (11-5-3) got on the board in the 70th minute of the game to cut the Lady Cat margin to 2-1.

Less than a minute later, the Fire tied the match on a penalty kick. Regulation ended in the 3-3- draw.

 During the first 10-minute overtime session, the Wildcats took a 3-2 lead on Audrey LaRue's goal.  It was her team-leading 11th goal of the season. 

 The Fire tied the game with a second overtime score.

Dudley took over in goal due to an injury suffered by Keeper Alicia Perez with 13 minutes remaining in regulation and made a save for Bethel in the fifth round of the shootout to win it.

Carla Cebollada and Ainhoa Chirivella had the two other assists.

Southeastern had a 16-7 edge in shots but the Cats found a way to win after Dudley's dramatic save. 

Johanna Veldhuizen, LaRue, Sterre Van Bloemendaal, Chirivella and Elle Carson were all successful with their penalty kicks.

In her own words, Coach Aird shared her thoughts about the journey.

“We have been on a journey for the last five years. I thought we had turned things around with a good year in 2017. In 2018 I was involved in a life-altering car accident.  The accident left me less than normal to say the least. With God’s Grace, love from my family, friends and supporters, I was able to fight back and make a recovery. I also had to depend on my assistant coach, Tashana Taylor. Being a former player, she knew better than anyone how I wanted my team to be run and she stepped in and helped me personally and professionally. She helped me gain my strength and confidence to continue coaching. I leaned on her   for guidance and strength.” 

In 2019 Coach Tashana took a full-time job as the housing director at Bethel and stayed on as an assistant coach. Coach Aird knew she needed to find a suitable assistant to replace Coach T.

 She mentioned the job to one of her former players’ husbands who was a friend. When the job opened, Coach Tico (Armando Guell Castro) joined the program and had an instant connection with Coach Aird. 

Coach Aird said, “He had energy and knowledge and was excited about every aspect of the job. In one of the first conversations we had, Coach Tico asked what the goal was, how do you want to end your career at Bethel. I told him the goal is to get back to the national tournament. The goal is to be a national championship team. So, we started planning right away. I told him what kind of players I was looking for, what system I wanted to run, we both like possession-style soccer.”

Coach Misty and Coach Tico also thought it was time for other changes. “We wanted to change the culture back to what it was back in the day when we were nationally ranked. We both wanted to develop a culture and mentality of winning. We brought in a Behavioral Analysis, Armand Hebert. He started working with us as coaches and our team. We started to learn the behavior styles of our players and how to interact with them. We focused on getting the best out of them based on how they needed to be coached and how they learn.” 

 Coach Aird continued, “We had to change the standard, back to being more disciplined. I needed to rebuild, and I needed help to do so. I wanted to start over, start fresh, bring new energy and new ideas to our program. I believe good leaders know their weaknesses and find people who can cover those weaknesses. I wanted to get back to making the players feel prioritized. I wanted to develop winners, on and off the field. 

"Every year since my accident, I have gotten a little stronger, and this year at the beginning of the year I told the players I was all in and that they were my main priority and that they need to make plans to be in Orange Beach at the end of the year. I feel more like myself this year, more confident to be able to handle the stress of being a head coach. Two of my three kids are in college so there were not as many distractions. Coach Tico is an amazing partner. He has worked so hard completing his master’s and has applied what he has learned to developing our players. We have similar visions and usually complete each other’s thoughts. I’ve been blessed to have the staff that I do. Jason Essary has done a great job keeping our players healthy and, on and off the field. Mr. Armand helps keep their minds focused. My players have been so good and patient with me for the last few years through my recovery. I’m not looking to coach the way I did before, I’m looking to be a better version of the coach that I was. I’ve learned through my experience that I have a huge responsibility and that being a coach is a privilege and I am so honored to lead this team. We miss having Coach T this year, but we know she is with us watching from afar. The Journey to get back to the Round of 16 was long but the steps we took to get here has been intentional, a lot of work, a lot of trust and a lot of planning has gone into it. No matter what happens from here I’m so proud of each and every person that is part of our team.”

As the Lady Wildcats prepare to play Spring Arbor Tuesday at 11 a. m. in Foley, Alabama, let’s all remember each one of us is also on a life journey and we all can be inspired by the remarkable journey of Coach Aird and her 2023 Lady Wildcat Soccer squad. 

Watch for a game preview of Tuesday’s match later at www.bethelathletics.com