Colorado Inferno make history, name Nicky Ridenour first female head coach in M2 history

TAMPA, Florida – Nicky Ridenour is used to challenges in soccer.

So becoming the first female head coach in the history of Major Arena Soccer League 2 shouldn’t be that big a deal for her.

But it is, of course, a groundbreaking moment in the sport, and many eyes will be on Ridenour and the Colorado Inferno when she makes her M2 debut behind the bench on Sunday, Feb. 19, as Inferno hosts the New Mexico Runners. The Colorado Springs based Inferno is the only team in the league to have played all six M2 seasons, and are currently winless in five starts.

Colorado owner John Riding, in making the announcement, noted that former coach John Wells will remain involved in the Inferno’s operations as the general manager.

Ridenour’s local soccer history is already both deep and historic, even before her Inferno hiring, so accepting the position wasn’t something she had to think too long about. It wasn’t unusual to find her at the Soccerhaus, where the Inferno play their home games, studying what was going on in front of her.

“Ive been around indoor quite a bit as a player or through my family,” she said. “I definitely thought about coaching ‘that could be fun’  as I’ve watched, and the level of play in M2, I’m very impressed. I watched games after my indoor games and  say ‘wow, look at that guy’ or ‘what is that guy doing over here?’  I can’t turn off my coaching brain, so it was super appealing to accept the offer because I want to help.”

She was born and raised in Colorado Springs, husband Kevin played indoors for the Colorado Blizzard, who spent one season in M2. She was a standout soccer star at nearby Coronado High School, and continued to find success in college. Ridenour is a 2004 graduate of University of Minnesota-Morris, where she was a three-time All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference student-athlete. She was also a member of the school’s 2003 team that went undefeated in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference that last fall was inducted into the university’s Hall of Fame. She was also an honorable mention  All UMAC selection that year.

She made her coaching mark, however, in the nine years she spent at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, where she founded the women’s soccer program in 2008. She had the NCAA Division II program ranked as high as No. 11 in the country in 2012 when the Mountain Lions won their first six games of the season. In all, she won 67 games at the UCCS helm.

Ridenour joined the UCCS staff after a successful high school coaching career at Fountain Valley High School in Colorado Springs.  Under her guidance, both the boys and girls team won Tri-Peaks League championships and the boys advanced to the Class 3 state championship game, earning league coach-of-the-year honors.  Ridenour’s boys teams went a combined 26-6-2 in her final two seasons.

M2 Commissioner Chris Economides said Ridenour’s appointment, regardless of its groundbreaking nature, is what the league is all about.

“As the second level of the pro indoor soccer pyramid, we’ve said all along it’s a proving ground for players, coaches, referees,” Economides said. “Her resume in the sport is impressive and her enthusiasm and knowledge and dedication will make a difference in Colorado. I don’t think the Inferno were looking to make history, they simply had, literally right in their backyard, a high quality soccer coach and person with tremendous proven success and deep, deep community roots. It is a perfect combination and all of M2 welcomes her to the family. We can’t wait for her to really get going.”

The news comes just three months after the Kansas City Comets named NWSL Kansas City Current defender Jenna Winebrenner to its 2022-23 coaching staff making Winebrenner the first female assistant coach in MASL history. 

Ridenour said her philosophy with the Inferno – she’s already taken over team practices -- would be the same as it has been in every other stop on her coaching trail.

“They guys have been great, very responsive. I think they’re really looking for some team direction because they all are great individual players,” she said. “It goes back to I’ll taking a whole team of people with or without who don’t have the absolute best skills; but if they’re willing to listen, to try hard and work together, that’s what I want. It’s really all about the team. Building that aspect, the responsibility to each other, to the team, is more important than individual accolades.”

Riding said he’s already seen a difference in the group, even in their first game after Ridenour was named coach, although a prior work commitment kept her from actually being behind the bench Feb. 5 in a loss in Amarillo.

“Our first half was excellent and then we kind of went back to old habits, but I was really pleased how we played early,” Riding said. “She’s a great trainer and teacher. At practice, it’s been a completely different environment. She’s already molding them into a team.” 

Ridenour, --who has a bachelor's degree in Biology, and a masters in Student Affairs, and a USSF National B coaching license -- was previously a member of the Colorado Springs United / Colorado Springs Sabers, a semi-professional team that operated within the Women’s Premier Soccer League. Ridenour also took the initiative of owning and operating the Colorado Springs United women’s semi-professional team in 2006-07.

She will get plenty of chances to impress the home folk. The Inferno still have five of their six home games left to play, starting on the 19h.

Until then, she’ll be working on finding the answers to a few of the big challenges that face her, including how to best some of the talent on the Inferno roster like captains Francisco Rivas and Marcus Jordan.

“I think trying to find that balance in lines is one of the big things. I’ve watched film on other teams, I know they take different strategies on how long they’ll be out there,” she added. “I really want to make sure I’m getting a balanced look and make sure I’m not wearing them out in the first two quarters because there’s another whole half to go. That will be my biggest learning curve, but I’m having fun doing it already.”