Charlotte alum John Cullen added more hardware to his mantle in 2016, a Conference USA Championships trophy, after the 49ers clinched an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. As the school’s all-time winningest coach, Cullen has built upon an already impressive resume as he enters his ninth season in charge of the program in 2017.
Cullen guided the Niners to the tournament crown on their home field last November, delivering a 4-0 shutout in the title contest and conceding just one goal the entire week, in their first game, before back-to-back shutouts locked down the trophy.
The superior defense, which has always been a hallmark for his teams, was supplemented by a high-octane offense to create a balance few teams could match. The chemistry was molded during a 10-day preseason trip to the British Isles, England and Ireland, during which Charlotte faced strong competition in a pair of friendlies while also learning about the culture and history of each country along the way.
Leading the attack was Martha Thomas, who continued to add to her own personal resume with another strong season. The Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year not only got it done on the field, becoming the first player in program history with three double-digit goal scoring seasons, let alone doing it consecutively, she also added NSCAA All-America Scholar Second Team and All-Conference USA Academic First Team nods for her performances in the classroom.
Thomas headlines this fall’s roster as she has set her sights on several school records and cementing herself as one of the program’s all-time greats.
Fortunately for Cullen, she doesn’t have to do it alone. Two other All-Conference USA selections also return, including the reigning C-USA Freshman of the Year, Megan Greene. Greene joined Thomas with double-digit scores last fall, giving the 49ers a one-two punch in the final third unparalleled throughout the league. Greene posted two multi-goal scoring matches, including in her debut contest against Western Carolina in the season opener while firing 10 shots, the most for any Niners individual since 1995.
Greene’s rookie campaign was not the only freshman year to stand out last fall, as Riley Orr joined her on the all-league and all-freshman squads. Orr, a defender, led Charlotte with 11 assists, the most in seven seasons, and became an offensive threat with her artistry on set pieces.
Other freshmen who contributed solidly to last season’s success were Julia Grainda, who put home half of her six goals as game winners, and unsung hero Kelley Suggs helping to anchor the midfield position. Suggs, a high school and club teammate of Greene, was an All-Conference USA Tournament Team pick.
And that’s just the players who are returning for Cullen in 2017.
Graduates also added their own credentials after combining for eight goals last fall. Katie O’Neill, who played just two seasons with the program after transferring, was named to her second-straight All-Conference USA Team. She put together a dazzling effort on Senior Night, not only scoring the fastest goal in program history (0:21 seconds into the match) but she finished with a hat trick. It marked the 13th hat trick in 49ers history and the first since 2010.
Fellow graduates Rebecca Beatty and Perri Bonner factored into the offense with each netting a game-winning goal throughout the season, including Beatty’s strike in the league tournament semifinals against UTEP.
The final two pieces of the senior class, Shelby Hicks and Kaitlin Walker, helped anchor the defensive unit that registered six shutouts, all against conference competition. The stout group shut down several high-octane offenses and allowed three or more goals just six times all season, half of which came against nationally-ranked foes.
Speaking of those nationally-ranked opponents, the 49ers accomplished all this while facing one of the toughest schedules in recent memory. Charlotte squared off in road matches at No. 9 North Carolina, No. 22 South Carolina and No. 14 Duke in the NCAA Tournament in addition to the rigorous Conference USA slate. The resiliency was also on display at home, as the 49ers boasted a 9-1-1 (.864) mark on their home turf, allowing less than a goal per game in the process (0.96 GAA).
The London, England, native owns an overall ledger of 86-61-15 (.577) during his eight years with the program as its fourth head coach. He became the school’s all-time wins leader Oct. 12, 2014, when the Niners topped Southern Miss 2-1 at Transamerica Field. Overall, his squads have reached conference championship matches three times and have participated in the tournament field in all but one of his years.
Cullen returned to his alma mater in January 2009 after a highly successful eight-year stretch (2001-08) as the head women’s soccer coach at Catawba in nearby Salisbury.
He won 16 overall games in each of those first two campaigns, garnering a share of the Atlantic 10 regular-season crown in 2010. His initial squad tied the school record for single-season shutouts (13), while outscoring the opposition by an astounding 60-to-16 margin.
Hailey Beam was chosen as the 2009 Atlantic 10 Midfielder of the Year, while Whitney Weinraub was picked as the Atlantic 10 Offensive Player of the Year the same season. Six players received an all-league honor and another three added all-academic accolades to conclude his first year.
The all-conference award winners jumped to eight in 2010, including goalkeeper Alex Kubrick on the all-rookie team. Again, the 49ers placed a player on the all-academic team in addition to Amanda Jones being honored on the all-rookie squad in 2011.
In 2012, Charlotte reached the double-digit win plateau despite losing three of its top five scorers from the previous fall. The Niners entered the season with the 10 field player returning starters having earned only a combined 58 starting nods. Despite the youthful group, a total of four Niners were recognized as All-Atlantic 10 performers.
Cullen’s 2013 squad added another trophy to the case, picking up the Conference USA East Division in its first year back in the league. The 49ers weathered through injuries midseason to win the outright championship and earn the division’s top seed at the conference tournament, where they reached the semifinals.
He orchestrated another double-digit win campaign along the way, his fourth in five years, and led Jones and Monica Trickett to All-Conference USA Second Team honors. The pair added All-Conference USA Tournament Team accolades as well, while Nicole Anderson added an All-Conference USA Freshman Team plaudit.
The Niners outscored their opponents 22-to-5 during the second half in 2013, registering a number of comebacks to pull out victories or force ties. That never-say-die mentality helped lift the team to a 7-2-1 record at Transamerica Field during the program’s 20th season. A year-long celebration featured the retirement of Beam’s jersey, only the second in school history.
Cullen and the 49ers played host to the 2014 Conference USA Championships before the event returned this past fall. Thomas was selected as a TopDrawerSoccer.com Freshman All-American, the Conference USA Freshman of the Year and an all-region choice. She burst onto the scene with 11 goals during her rookie campaign, creating havoc for opposing defenses along the way.
Overall, four Charlotte players earned All-Conference USA honors, including Taylor Dulaney garnering a first-team spot in addition to joining Thomas as an all-region pick. Jones and Sara Trexler rounded out the all-league choices, while Victoria Fubara and Hicks were named to the conference’s all-academic teams. Jones capped her career as one of the school’s all-time offensive greats, ranking in the Top 10 listings in several categories.
In 2015, he mentored three players to all-league honors, including All-Conference USA First Team recipient Thomas. Thomas netted a conference-best 13 goals and added the second of three-straight all-region honors by the NSCAA. She was joined by Annika McHenry on the All-Conference USA Academic Teams.
O’Neill made an immediate impact, garnering All-C-USA Third Team accolades and helped bolster the offensive attack.
Charlotte made 2015 no exception to its defensive stranglehold, as it held 14 opponents to two goals or less, including nine of the 10 Conference USA matches.
Prior to coming back to the Queen City, Cullen led the Catawba Indians to four NCAA Division II Regional appearances, including two showings in the regional finals. The program won a pair of South Atlantic Conference (SAC) regular-season titles in addition to his personal hardware of four SAC Coach-of-the-Year plaudits. In 2005, he was named the NSCAA Regional Coach of the Year after the squad finished with a 16-4-1 record.
All in all, he recorded a 113-33-16 (.747) record during his tenure, finishing as the school’s career wins leader. He developed two All-Americans, an academic All-American, two SAC Players of the Year, 18 all-region selections and 32 all-conference honorees.
In addition to his collegiate resume, Cullen boasts strong ties to the Olympic Development Program (ODP) level. He began working at the state level in 2001 before joining the US Region III staff in 2006. Overall he tallied a 46-4 record with the NC ODP program, including an unbeaten, unscored upon 16-game slate with the ’90s NC ODP team. He joined forces with former 49ers assistant coach Sarah (Judy) Denton in the summer of 2010, leading the NC ODP ’95 team to the regional championships in Montevallo, Alabama. The squad then represented Region III in the February 2011 national championships.
He was honored as the 2015 recipient of the North Carolina Youth Soccer Association’s Brantley-Murphy Award for his dedication and commitment to the sport on the state level.
Cullen served as the assistant director of coaching with the Charlotte Soccer Club from 1992-2001 and also was the executive director of soccer with the FC Carolina Alliance, based in Concord, for three years.
In addition, he coached the Charlotte Soccer Academy U12 Girls Team in 2014 which reached the National Championship of the President’s Cup despite playing up in the U13 age level. He’s also been honored recently, in December 2015, as the Charlotte Youth Girls Coach of the Year.
He graduated from Charlotte in 1993 with a bachelor of arts degree in English, while playing all four years with the 49ers’ men’s soccer team. He was a member of the program’s first NCAA Tournament team in 1991, which peaked at No. 4 in the national rankings, as well as the 1992 NCAA Tournament squad that climbed to as high as No. 2 in the polls.
Cullen, a team captain, garnered a spot on the NSCAA South Region Scholar-Athlete Team in addition to the Sun Belt Academic Honor Roll.
Cullen currently holds a USSF (United States Soccer Federation) "A" license.
He currently resides in nearby Concord with his wife Terina and their three daughters: Bailey (18), Peyton (16) and Reagan (14).