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Sean Topping and Tim O’Donohue
maintain close friendship
while matching wits on the soccer field

by Mike Falk

 

When they were roommates at Muhlenberg College, Sean Topping ’98 and Tim O’Donohue ’98 often talked about one day coaching soccer together.

Last fall, their dreams turned into reality, only with a twist. Twice during the 2002 soccer season, once at the beginning and once at the end, the two former roommates coached in the same game, but from opposite benches.

The season culminated when the men’s soccer teams from Muhlenberg (coached by Topping) and Stevens Tech (coached by O’Donohue) faced each other in the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament. The Ducks won the game, which was played at Drew University in front of a crowd that included many alumni and parents of former teammates, by a score of 3-1, ending the Mules’ season.

The result produced mixed emotions for the two close friends, who found their natural competitive fires tempered a bit. “Make no mistake, it’s definitely the pinnacle of my coaching career so far,” said O’Donohue, “but seeing how disappointed Sean was made it really tough. It was a game we both wanted to get over... I never thought in a million years that we’d be coaching against each other.”

“At least we knew one of us would be going on,” said Topping, “We wish we would have met a little later [in the tournament], because we thought we had teams that could have gone pretty far.” For at least one observer, however, it was a no-lose situation. “It was terrific,” commented Jeff Tipping, who coached Topping and O’Donohue at Muhlenberg. “Obviously I’m delighted but not particularly surprised. They were at the core of what might have been our best team ever, and I think they made the right decision going into coaching.”

Topping, from nearby Nazareth and O’Donohue, from western New Jersey, met as freshmen on the 1994 soccer team and became fast friends. The two roomed together the next three years while also occupying two of the slots in the Mules’ starting lineup.

Both were key players in a senior class that averaged 15 wins, won three Centennial Conference championships and made four NCAA Tournament appearances from 1994 to 1997 – one of which (1995) resulted in a trip to the national semifinals. Topping was a co-captain of the Mules’ 1997 CC championship team and was named to the All-CC first team as a back in 1996 and as a midfielder the following year. He earned all-region honors both seasons. O’Donohue, a central midfielder, was an All-CC selection as a senior and scored 19 career goals.

While Topping majored in psychology and O’Donohue in English, they both also left with a strong education in the art of coaching.

“We learned from one of the best,” Topping said of Tipping, currently the director of coaching education for the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA). “Tipp coached for us to be coaches. He explained why we were doing things, like how to make a practice run smoothly, and how to make it fun.”

“You couldn’t have had a better guy to play for if you were going to become a coach,” added O’Donohue. “It’s like if you were going to become a mathematician and you studied under Einstein. Sean and I have taken everything he taught us and doctored that formula to fit our personalities.”

After graduation, O’Donohue got right into coaching, taking a job as girls’ soccer coach and English teacher at Jefferson (N.J.) High School. He was hired as an assistant coach at Stevens Tech in 2000, then promoted with four games remaining in the 2001 regular season when the head coach retired.

O’Donohue coached the Ducks to wins in those four games, then got two more wins in the Skyline Conference Tournament to give Stevens its first NCAA Tournament bid.

When it came time to hire an assistant coach for his first full season, O’Donohue turned to his “old” friend. Topping had returned to Muhlenberg as Tipping’s assistant coach for the 1999 and 2000 seasons, then took his talents to Europe to coach the men’s and women’s teams at Franklin College in Lugano, Switzerland. Topping flew back to the States to interview for the Stevens Tech assistant job, but decided it was not a good fit for him. Ironically, O’Donohue wound up hiring Topping’s younger brother, Shane, who played at Muhlenberg from 1996 to 1999.

(continued...)

 

Top Left: Tim O’Donohue ’98; photo courtesy of Stevens Tech sports information office. Top Right: Sean Topping ’98, photo by Bill Johnson.

 

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