She joined the Cornell soccer program in its Division I infancy and took some lumps. But before she graduated, Laurel Collier led the Big Red to the Ivy title and earned a place in school history.
In the early 1980s, Cornell soccer coach Randy May wanted to elevate the women's soccer team from a club program to a Division I power. He found a critical element of his plan attending his summer soccer camp.
"He followed my young career," said Laurel Collier, "and drew me to Cornell. Randy had such a clear vision of taking the team from a club team to a competitive Division 1 program. It was new. I could put my stamp on it."
This is an understatement. Cornell women's soccer transitioned to varsity status in 1982, and had won exactly one Ivy contest when Collier arrived in 1984. In four years she would help the team to its first Ivy championship. But success didn't happen overnight. The team won two games her first season, and Collier was named second team All-Ivy.
Coach May transformed Collier "from a very individualistic player to a much stronger team player," she believes. "He ultimately made me a better player." The change was apparent the next season. The team had its first Ivy winning record and Collier made first team All-Ivy, the first of three straight selections.
She also grew academically. Majoring in biology, "my GPA was not what I would have hoped for the first year," says Collier. "Then I figured out how to make productive use of my minimal time. I was fully committed to having the total Cornell experience, academically, athletically and socially -? and I am so glad that I did."
Collier, and the team, continued to get better. Her junior season the team improved to 4-1-1, just behind Ivy champion Brown, and Collier was named Ivy Player of the Year in addition to her usual first-team All-Ivy honors. "Brown was our rival," she remembers. "They were incredibly competitive."
In Collier's senior season it all came together. She set school records for goals (11) and points (26), as the team went unbeaten with a 4-0-2 Ivy record. They won a share of the team's first Ivy League title by beating Brown. "That win was the culmination of four years of building the Cornell program," says Collier. "We had an amazingly talented team, but the team dynamic and bond that was grounded in four years of teambuilding, practices, wins, losses and friendship and sheer grit was what won that game and the Ivy title."
Collier compiled some impressive career numbers in taking Cornell women's soccer from one Ivy win to its first Ivy title, setting school records for goals (32), assists (17), and points (81). In addition to her three straight first-team All-Ivy teams, Collier was a three-time All-American. She was also the Cornell Daily Sun Athlete of the Year.
After graduating Collier "wanted to go to medical school, and decided to work in something related to medicine," so she took a position selling ear thermometers. "I didn't like the bureaucracy of selling," she recalls, and switched to "managing the industrial product line."
Collier is now the Chief Operating Officer of Automation Controls, a 60-employee, $25-million California-based manufacturer and reseller of factory automation equipment. "We manufacture custom workstations, environmental chambers, and integrate robotics, vision systems and electronics into production lines," she says.
She feels her soccer experiences laid a foundation for her business success. "I draw constantly from the basic tenets of team sport, and continue to hone the leadership skills which I acquired on the soccer field." Collier thinks "soccer is such a great metaphor for business success -? you always have to be willing to practice the basics, however successful you are, and your focus should always be on success of the team unit -? the team dynamic is often the differentiator between a good and a great company."
Her commitment to athletics continues. "I have made a lifetime commitment to being involved in athletics," she asserts, "for the health of it, for the life lessons, for the camaraderie, and for the competitive outlet. I still work out every day, and play soccer for the Olympic Club. Our team just made it into the premier division, 90 teams. I'm still competing."
Her contributions to the rise of Cornell women's soccer haven't been forgotten. Cornell named her to the Ivy League's Silver Anniversary Team in 1999, and to its Athletic Hall of Fame.
"Cornell is a place rich in culture and physical beauty, steeped in tradition yet always forward looking, and the most perfect backdrop for learning and simply growing up," says Collier. "I marvel at how lucky I was to have had that experience."
— Stephen Eschenbach