O’Donnell taking step back, but moving forward

Soccer coach Brianna O’Donnell is stepping back from Franklin Towne Charter School after leading the team to five championships.

Brianna O’Donnell led Franklin Towne Charter to five Public League soccer championships. SUPPLIED PHOTO

Championships weren’t the reason Brianna O’Donnell coached soccer.

But her coaching was a huge reason for the championships.

As head coach, she built up her players on the Franklin Towne Charter High School, and the players built the program. Together, they’ve been very successful.

“I’m so proud of the players, I’m very lucky because the school, the girls and the parents are all so great,” said O’Donnell, who guided the Warriors to five consecutive Public League championships beginning in 2012.

So was their coach, but now she’s taking a step back.

O’Donnell, who coached the Franklin Towne Charter High School girls soccer team since 2011, is moving to an assistant coach next year. Her former assistant Deb Ounan will take over the reigns beginning in the fall.

O’Donnell may no longer be the head coach, but she’ll still be there for her players.

“I always ask players to give 100 percent, and with my promotion at the school, and coaching basketball, I was starting to wonder if I could do that with soccer,” said O’Donnell, who went to grade school with Ounan at St. Martin of Tours. “I think it helps that Deb is taking over. She’s definitely going to do a great job. I have full confidence in her and the players. But I’m staying around because I love doing it. I love being around the players and I love sports.”

Athletics have always been a big part of O’Donnell’s life.

O’Donnell, who was recently named dean of Franklin Towne, played basketball, soccer and volleyball at St. Hubert before graduating in 1999, and then went on to play basketball at Widener University.

After graduating, she began teaching and coaching hoops at Franklin Towne. Then in the spring of 2011, she took over the soccer program, and even though she was more of a basketball aficionado, she found ways to break down soccer in the simplest form.

“My class came in the same time she was coming in and we all joked that we would help teach her soccer,” said Rachel Gilborges, a Bridesburg resident who played under O’Donnell and is now her assistant coach. “She knew soccer, obviously, but basketball was her main sport. But because of the way she teaches, she could coach anything and be successful. She’s just a great teacher.

“She doesn’t teach you just to play the sport. She teaches you how to be a leader or how to be a better person.”

That’s the book on O’Donnell.

Her girls love playing for her because, while tough, she puts them in the proper position to succeed. But the girls who played for her during their high school days are now women who appreciate what she’s done for them.

“She’ll teach you things in sports, and then you can use them always, not just in sports but in life,” said Devon Keller, a Port Richmond native who played both basketball and soccer for O’Donnell and now plays club sports at Bloomsburg. “I’m very surprised she’s giving up the team because I know how much she loves it and how much the players love her. But she’ll be a great assistant coach.”

It will be a new role for O’Donnell, who has been coaching since she was 18 years old when she began coaching right after high school when she helped with the Northeast Rockers AAU team, where her sister Siobhan played.

And no matter what her title is, she’ll still bring the same intensity and knowledge.

“I love Franklin Towne, I love the school and I love soccer, but I wouldn’t be coaching here if it wasn’t for O’Donnell,” Gilborges said. “She’s not just a coach or a friend, I’d consider her family. That’s what she is to me.”

That’s what O’Donnell wants to be.

Obviously, O’Donnell plays to win the game, and she did help the Warriors collect championships like they were baseball cards. But her main goal was to help her players become productive citizens. Wins were just a nice bonus.

She also credits Franklin Towne Charter CEO Joe Venditti for allowing her to coach two varsity teams. In fact, he was the one who encouraged her to take over the soccer program, not that she needed much encouragement because it was a job she loved. And she’s very happy how it all turned out.

“I went into coaching because I’ve always loved sports, I loved being around them and I found out that you can have a job you love and I get paid for it,” O’Donnell said. “But I also wanted a job where I could make a difference. And I’ve been lucky to have so many great coaches. I had great coaches at St. Hubert. I was so lucky to have so many great adults there. And I had it in college, too.

“I also had a lot of help from a man named Jim Edwards. He played at North Catholic and then at Textile. He helped me when I was coaching AAU and he really went out of his way to help me.”

That’s the exact type of assistant coach she’ll be.

But she’s not expecting to have to offer much help.

She wouldn’t have stepped away unless she fully expected Ounan to keep the Warriors at a high level.

“She knows soccer very well, she was a goalie at Little Flower and she knows X’s and O’s as well as anyone,” said O’Donnell, a Mayfair resident. “She’s going to do a great job. She was a great assistant. I’m staying because I want to be there, not because they need me.

“I would definitely miss not being around. It will be a very easy transition because I’ll be there and she already knows what to do. The girls will do great and so will she.”