A four-year starter at Pfeiffer College, Robbie Church (NC Soccer Hall of Fame 2020) was his team’s leading scorer and an NAIA All-South Region selection as a senior in 1980. After attaining a B.A. in 1981 in Health and Physical Education (he would receive a Masters Degree in the same discipline at South Carolina in 1985), he went straight into soccer coaching, and while the ensuing years would be defined primarily by his great success, it also seems to be a career of two chapters. The common thread not only involved great records, but also his positive impact on his players. His story is what coaching is all about.
Church spent the first twenty years of his career at a variety of schools in the South. He started with the men’s program at East Carolina (1982-84), spent a year as an assistant at Duke, and then moved on to Belmont Abbey, where he was coach and associate athletic director for five years. His final team (1989) competed in the NAIA tournament and he left with a 69-35-1 record and a 90% graduation rate. At what is now Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, he had an amazing single season, going 17-4-2 and making the NAIA finals.
It was at this point that he temporarily left the college ranks and moved to Charlotte Country Day. Here he coached both men’s and, for the first time, women’s teams. His men would reach a state final in 1993, while the women captured a state title in 1992. At UNC-Charlotte, he would start the women’s program in 1994, go 66-30-10 in five years and gain an NCAA tournament bid in 1998. Two successful seasons with the Vanderbilt ladies team followed but soon chapter one ended. He was about to find a spot where he could drop anchor and coach in one of the top schools in the country.
On July 9, 2001, Robbie Church was named head women’s coach at Duke, and the next nineteen years proved to be an unqualified success. Competing in the top soccer conference in the nation, his Blue Devils through 2019 have a splendid record of 244-126-55 with two ACC championships. His teams have made 16 NCAA tournament appearances, advancing to the quarterfinal five times and making three runs to soccer’s final four, the College Cup (2011, 2015, 2017). Behind his coaching expertise, the Duke program, as of 2018, had produced 16 All–Americans and 57 All-ACC performers. Fifteen of his players were drafted in the National Women’s Soccer League or Women’s Professional Soccer. Twenty-three of his players went on to play professionally both in the United States or overseas.
In 32 years as a collegiate head coach (for men and women), Church has amassed a record of 418-236-62. His Coach of the Year recognition includes Soccer America National (2011), ACC (2011,2017), NAIA (1989), South Region (2004) and Southeast Region ( 2011), with others too numerous to mention. In addition, like many successful collegiate coaches, Robbie has gone outside his college duties to work and develop youth players. He became involved with North Carolina ODP in 1997 and was on the Region III staff until 2013. In addition, he was a member of the North Carolina Women’s State Select Staff from 1988-89 and again from 2001-13.
It was a winding road that Robbie Church took to get to Durham, but once there, he established a program that would be among the nation’s elite in collegiate women’s soccer. This is a most worthy coach and educator who is being enshrined into the NC Soccer Hall of Fame, class of 2020.