Former Upstate Player, Assistant Jeff Negalha Wins National Title at North Carolina
Spartanburg, S.C. – In the fall of 1998, Jeff Negalha was the starting goalkeeper on USC Upstate's (then-USC Spartanburg) men's soccer team that played for the NCAA Division II National Championship. The team and Negalha fell short of the goal of bringing a national championship to campus. Last Sunday, Negalha tasted the glory of winning it all, manning the sideline as an assistant coach for North Carolina in the Tar Heels' 1-0 victory over Charlotte in the NCAA Division I College Cup title game.
Negalha, a native of Acushnet, Mass., in the southern part of the state near New Bedford, has found tremendous success in the world of college soccer. Sunday's win over Charlotte to secure the national championship for North Carolina is his crowning achievement in the sport.
"After the final whistle so many emotions ran through me," said Negalha of winning the national championship. "The magnitude is that we are the 2011 National Champions at the University of North Carolina. We did it at one of the best educational institutions in the world with first class student-athletes. I feel proud. We worked extremely hard to achieve this championship. We are a very close group and consider ourselves family to each other.
"I knew this team was very good and special in the spring because of their commitment, determination and focus. They were hungry from day one."
As a player, Negalha was an All-Conference and All-Region selection as a goalkeeper at Massasoit Community College, leading the team to appearances in the semifinals and quarterfinals of the NJCAA National Tournament in 1994 and 1995. He came to Spartanburg for the 1997 campaign and in two seasons as the starter in the net, led the team to 45 wins, an appearance in the quarterfinals of the 1997 DII Tournament and second place in the 1998 DII National Championships.
Though 13 years removed from the 1998 season when he posted a 0.71 goals against average and 8.5 shutouts to lead the Spartans (then-Rifles) to a 23-1-0 record, Negalha's name remains prominent in the Upstate record books. He holds the all-time single-season record with 22 wins in 1998 and also posted the second-most wins with 20 in 1997. He owns two of the top-four single-season marks in minutes played, the third-most shutouts with 11.5 in 1997 and two of the program's top-10 goals against averages.
For his career, Negalha ranks tied for second with 42 wins. However, Jorge Valenzuela, who owns the all-time wins record with 52, and Darren Ambrose, who is tied with Negalha at 42, each played at Upstate for four seasons. Both are also Upstate Athletics Hall of Fame members. Despite playing in the program for two seasons, Negalha also ranks third all-time with a 0.76 goals against average, fifth with 20 saves and third in minutes played.
"Our '98 team was special," said Negalha. "We had outstanding leadership and players, and I'm disappointed we did not win it (the national championship), but we can always look back and celebrate our team and its accomplishments. But, when I think about the '98 team and our team this year at North Carolina, I feel satisfied for our players at North Carolina. Watching them celebrate this accomplishment means more to me than winning a national championship as a player."
When he finished playing at Upstate, Negalha realized he wanted to become a college coach. He joined the coaching staff at Upstate as the assistant under head coach Greg Hooks, who had also coached Negalha during his two seasons as a player. The two formed quite a combination and, with Negalha spearheading the recruiting efforts, maintained the program at a nationally high level.
Upstate enjoyed tremendous success with Negalha on the sidelines as assistant coach. From 1999-02, Upstate posted a 58-15-5 record, won two Peach Belt Conference Tournament championships and one league regular season title, and advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2002 NCAA DII Tournament. He helped recruit some of the top players in the history of the program, including Ricky Charles. Charles was a junior college transfer who was also a captain of Grenada's National Team and who finished his two-year career with an astounding 115 points. Negalha's recruiting efforts helped pave the way for DII Tournament appearances in 2002, 2003 and 2006.
Negalha received his first NCAA Division I coaching opportunity at South Florida in 2003. He left Upstate and Spartanburg for Tampa, Fla. Again putting his recruiting talents to work, he led the efforts in bringing in the No. 3- and No. 10-ranked recruiting classes in the nation to USF in 2003 (10th) and 2004 (3rd). He also helped set up the 2005 freshman class that included two national team members from Trinidad and Tobago and two United States High School All-Americans.
With a knack for recruiting and a reputation for passion and hard work, Negalha broke through to elite college soccer when then-head coach Elmar Bolowich hired him as an assistant at North Carolina in 2005, assisting in all aspects of the program, while spearheading the recruiting efforts for the Tar Heels.
In his first season with North Carolina, Negalha coached the goalkeepers to a school record 15 shutouts. Following the 2006 season, he was recognized by College Soccer News as one of the "20 Top Assistant Coaches of 2006." He has assembled some of the top recruiting classes in the nation since his arrival in Chapel Hill, bringing in six consecutive classes ranked in the Top 11 in the nation. The 2011 class was the top-ranked in the country, while he brought in the third and fourth-best classes in 2006 and 2008.
North Carolina has enjoyed tremendous success during Negalha's tenure as an assistant coach. The Tar Heels have posted a 104-34-23 record in seven seasons with six appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including four straight College Cup appearances and the 2011 National Championship, two ACC regular season championships and one ACC Tournament title.
Thirteen years after the disappointment of not winning the national championship as a player, Negalha now has the rare experience of winning the sport's biggest prize as a coach. It is yet another achievement on a growing list of accomplishments for a person still young in the coaching profession and with a tremendous amount of potential ahead of him.
"I think winning a national championship feels great regardless whether you are a coach or player," said Negalha. "We all work hard to achieve our goals and it's special hoisting the trophy and celebrating knowing that we did it together!"