Leah Rutkowski wasn’t sure she would apply to become Crystal Lake Central’s new boys soccer head coach after Jay Schwarzrock, the program’s leader for the past 15 seasons, stepped down at the end of the 2022 season.
Rutkowski had experience developing the younger members of the program, but she still found herself with doubts. After talking to Schwarzrock and some self-reflection, however, Rutkowski realized there wasn’t a reason why she couldn’t continue the Tigers’ success.
The Community High School District 155 Board approved Rutkowski’s hiring during its Jan. 17 meeting. Now, Rutkowski is settling into her new role this spring.
“I’m excited to see the fruits of that labor since I’m going to see former players now back with me for their senior seasons and their time on varsity,” Rutkowski said. “It’s very thrilling to be a part of that process.”
Rutkowski joined Central seven years ago as a junior varsity coach with the girls program. She added coaching responsibilities in the boys program two seasons later and started developing players as a head coach of the program’s second junior varsity team.
When Schwarzrock decided to step down after this past season to spend more time with his family, he told Rutkowski he would recommend her to take over. Rutkowski felt some of the same doubts when she decided to join the boys program initially. How would the boys react to having a woman as a coach? Would it cause any issues?
“It can be intimidating,” Rutkowski said.
Rutkowski, however, quickly recalled her prior experiences at Central and the acceptance she had received throughout her tenure.
“I would love for other female coaches to see this and use it as confidence to apply for a job they hadn’t thought was possible,” Rutkowski said. “It’s great for the sport overall just to show that we’re willing to put our best out there, whether that be male or female.”
Central athletic director Jeff Aldridge wanted to find someone who could build off the strong foundation Schwarzrock built. The Tigers won a Class 3A regional title in 2018 and Central earned a 11-9-2 record this past season.
Rutkowski made the most sense. Not only was she familiar with the program, but Aldridge said Rutkowski showed how much she cares about the players in addition to her strong work ethic.
“She’s a great tactician, she’s a tireless worker,” Aldridge said. “She’s kind of a quiet leader, she’s not a yeller or a screamer, but she’s got a presence to her. It’s going to be pretty cool to see what happens.”
Rutkowski wants to improve the technical and tactical side for the Tigers. She’ll spend every practice making sure that Central has the basic techniques and foundations set, but Rutkowski doesn’t plan on changing the atmosphere Schwarzrock built with the program.
“I’m excited to see the fruits of that labor since I’m going to see former players now back with me for their senior seasons and their time on varsity. It’s very thrilling to be a part of that process.”— Leah Rutkowski, Crystal Lake Central boys soccer coach
Schwarzrock has been a mentor during Rutkowski’s career, and she wants to continue the family-like chemistry that he brought to the program.
Before she does that, Rutkowski is focued on her junior varsity girls soccer team this spring but is excited to get started with the boys in the summer. Rutkowski wasn’t sure it was the right choice at first, but now she can’t wait to take over.
“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Rutkowski said. “I’m 100% in it for the long haul. I’ve seen the kind of amazing players and people that we’ve got in our Central soccer program, and I’d love to build on the legacy that’s been founded by myself and other coaches.”