Dr. Leigh SearsDr. Leigh Sears

Dr. Leigh Sears, Hope College’s most successful and longest-serving women’s soccer coach, is stepping down after a 29-year coaching career but will continue to teach and mentor students through her role as a full-time member of the college’s kinesiology faculty.

As head coach, Sears amassed 310 victories over 29 seasons, including 270 victories, seven NCAA Division III Tournament appearances and six MIAA regular-season championships with the Flying Dutch since 2000. Before arriving at Hope, Sears coached at Marietta College (Ohio) from 1994 to 1999.

Hope has excelled in the classroom, too, during her tenure, earning the MIAA’s Team GPA Award in all of her seasons as head coach.

Director of Athletics Tim Schoonveld said that Sears has shined as an outstanding representation of Hope Athletics and Hope College women’s soccer throughout her successful career.

“In her own way, Leigh has developed a deep and meaningful relationship with the women within her program. Her holistic vision has taught the women within our program what it means to be strong, confident women who love the Lord and compete with excellence and strength,” Schoonveld said. “She is beloved by the student-athletes and alumni who have played for her and she has done so much for the women, the program and the college. We are excited for this new next step as she transitions into the classroom fully. I am so grateful for the impact and foundation she has laid within the Hope College Women’s Soccer program.”

Sears said that she is filled with gratitude and pride as she announces her transition from coaching to focusing full-time on academics. 

“My journey with Hope College Women's Soccer has been nothing short of incredible. Leading this program has not only defined my career but has also enriched my life in countless ways,” Sears said. “I have had the privilege of working alongside extraordinary female student-athletes who have gone on to make significant impacts in their families and chosen fields. It has been an absolute joy to witness their journeys, attend their weddings, and stay connected through bike rides and porch visits. The relationships I've built with these amazing women are gifts I will always cherish. Hope College Women's Soccer will always hold a special place in my heart. The experiences, memories, and relationships I've formed here are treasures I will carry with me forever. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this incredible journey.”

“I would like to thank each assistant along the way who has played a part in helping build the program,” Sears said. “It has truly been a team effort.

Sears also expressed “heartfelt appreciation and honor in working alongside associate head coach Elliot Slenk for the past 11 years.” 

“Elliot's dedication and support have been invaluable, and I am blessed to have had his assistance in shaping and growing the program. His unwavering commitment and willingness to pour into the team have made a lasting impact, and I am profoundly grateful for his partnership.”

At Hope, Sears went 270-130-43 as head coach for a .635 winning percentage. In MIAA play, Sears directed the Flying Dutch to a 186-63-25 record (.724). 

Allie Wittenbach ’17 played forward for Sears for four seasons. Wittenbach said it is hard to put into words the tremendous impact that her coach has had on the Hope College Women's Soccer student-athlete experience, and on all who have been fortunate enough to play for Sears throughout her tenure. 

“Leigh's leadership has helped build Hope College Women's Soccer into a program with a second-to-none culture, built on core values that players carry with them long after they leave the soccer field for the last time as a student-athlete and that we all continue to apply in our day-to-day lives both personally and professionally,” Wittenbach said. “I want to thank Leigh for leaving a legacy of servant leadership and excellence, and for creating something that I and countless others feel so blessed to have been a part of and continue to stay involved in. Congratulations on an incredible coaching career. The effort, the heart and the integrity that you've poured into Hope Women's Soccer will continue to impact the lives of those in the program for years to come."

Sears led Hope to 19 winning seasons during her tenure. 

The Flying Dutch claimed MIAA regular-season and tournament titles in 2017 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division III Championships.

In 2018, Hope made its deepest run in the NCAA Championships before falling at 11th-ranked Christopher Newport University (Va.), 2-1, in the Sweet Sixteen.

In 2022, Sears was named a recipient of the college's Karen Page Courage Award for her brave fight and recovery from breast cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic.