APU Women’s Soccer Team Scores a New Coach

by Micah McDaniel

Since winning the NAIA National Championship in 1998, Azusa Pacific University women’s soccer has become a model of consistent excellence. Throughout the past 20 years, the Cougars have won nearly 85 percent of their games, going 315-53-30; have finished first or second in conference play 18 times, winning 13 conference championships; have garnered numerous scholar-athlete honors; and have graduated myriad difference makers who are impacting their world.

So when Jason Surrell ’96, the longest-tenured head coach in program history, resigned after 17 years, just prior to the 2017 season, APU Director of Athletics Gary Pine ’84, MBA ’05, took a methodical approach to finding a suitable replacement. After pouring over hundreds of résumés, spending countless hours on the phone and in interviews, and even extending the search, Pine realized that Brooke Lincoln was the one almost immediately. “I knew 20 minutes into it that Brooke was the right one to add to our legacy,” Pine said. “When I thought we were nearly done with the process, other leaders encouraged me to keep looking, and had I not valued that input, we wouldn’t have found Brooke. It was plainly evident that she is organized, detailed, fiercely competitive, has a passion for people, and most important, has a strong faith and love for the Lord.”

While Lincoln’s faith is deeply rooted—she was active in her church in central Mississippi since childhood—it was the trauma of her parents’ divorce while she was in high school that defined much of her life. It sent her down a temporary path of rebellion and up a permanent path of repentance and forgiveness that positioned her to impact young, female athletes with similar experiences. “I was aggravated, hurt, and mad at the Lord, and in my small understanding, I felt like He could have prevented it,” said Lincoln. “In my limited human mind, I reasoned that because He hurt me, I could hurt Him and acted out. But, God uses all things for good for those who love Him, and He’s redeemed that situation. That season taught me who God really is and began a passion in me to help athletes know who God really is, too.”

At 20 years old, while playing briefly at NCAA Division III Mississippi College, she started the Christian-based Upward soccer program at her church, directing the program with 350 participants. She eventually coached her high school alma mater to its first-ever state semifinal appearance, and after serving as a graduate assistant at NAIA school Belhaven University, she landed her first collegiate head coaching job at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky, at the age of 27. In five seasons there, she led the fledgling program to two conference championships and two NAIA national tournament appearances, including the first such instance of each in program history.

Lincoln hopes to translate her success in building programs from the ground up to APU’s well-established program, and she has a clear vision for making that happen. “I want our program to be uniquely Christ-centered and nationally competitive, while seeking excellence in the classroom and community,” said Lincoln. “Most important, I want our athletes to know Christ and make Him known. My prayer is that we will get to a place that when someone thinks of Division II women’s soccer, they immediately think of Azusa Pacific. That will give us a platform from which to share the Gospel in a way that will impact more people for the Kingdom.”

Lincoln also has a detailed plan in place to execute that vision. It includes basic tenets such as hiring high-quality, godly assistants and recruiting the right athletes who are committed to upholding the values of the program and university. It also includes 10 core values that prospective student-athletes learn in the recruiting process and everyone in the program memorizes, such as “team over individual,” “choose to be positive,” and “seek excellence in all areas,” among others. She has also established a spiritual leadership team—a core group of athletes who receive leadership training and investment from the coaching staff and turn around and invest in their teammates—and a leadership academy, a 5-6-week training program open to anyone on the team who wants to be a leader. “The entire purpose of my role is to invest in and develop my players as athletes and students, but most important as people,” said Lincoln. “We’re all going to stand before the Lord one day, and I hope to have a bunch of wins and national championships, but I want Him to see the people I impacted. I get to do that through soccer, but every day is so much more than soccer; this is just the platform for the Gospel to be seen and heard.”

Indeed, the bar has been set high by those who have gone before her. But her lofty goals and vision will push it even higher. “I get to help elevate the great work that’s already been done here and do it with my own spin,” Lincoln said. “We get to add to the legacy, and I’m confident I can do it in a way that honors the program, the university, and the Lord. I am confident, because I know any success I have is only because of what He has done in and through me.”