Rick and Rian Stainton talk daily, usually by text and sometimes by video call. Distance — Rick is the coach of the UMBC women’s soccer team and Rian is a freshman midfielder at Iona — has made their hearts grow fonder.
But Rick Stainton has learned not to talk about strategy or game plans as he innocently did a couple of weeks before the Retrievers host the Gaels on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Retriever Soccer Park in Catonsville.
“I just asked, ‘What are you guys doing?’” he recalled. “I’m not even thinking twice about it, but she said to me, ‘Do you think I’m going to tell you what we’re going to be doing? We’re playing you.’ Fair enough.”
“We’re definitely going to talk, but we’re going to talk in a dad-and-daughter way,” Rian said. “There will be no soccer talk, no game plan exchanging.”
Probably a wise idea considering how competitive the Staintons are. As Iona (1-7-1) and UMBC (2-7-1) head into Thursday’s game, both agreed that a draw is the second-most preferred outcome either could ask for.
“A win for Iona would be the best result,” Rian said.
“We have to turn the corner here at UMBC, and I’m sure she would say something similar to that,” Rick said.
Soccer has been the backbone of the Stainton family. Rick went from being a walk-on at Green Mountain College, an NAIA school in Poultney, Vermont, to an All-Mayflower Conference first-team goalkeeper, was inducted into that school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 2020, and helmed women’s soccer programs at Fairleigh Dickinson and Seton Hall.
Before she married Rick, the former Amy DeValue ranked second at Monmouth in all-time scoring with 153 points and goals with 64. She helped guide the Hawks to their first Northeast Conference Tournament championship in 1995 and was inducted into the university’s athletic hall of fame in 2013.
With those bloodlines, Rian said she was “destined” to pick up soccer when she was 5 years old.
“I’ve always kind of compared myself to them,” she said of her parents. “I wanted to meet their standards and beat their standards from when they were players. So I’ve always had them as an inspiration.”
A resident of Brick, New Jersey, who played basketball and lacrosse, Rian decided to pursue playing soccer in college when she was an eighth grader. But despite her father’s coaching connections, she refused to ask him for help other than to proofread her emails to coaches.
“I wanted to be a normal student-athlete working for everything for myself,” she said. “I had to navigate it for myself. He helped me in the sense of writing emails, what to say and how to word it, but he would never call a coach for me. It was all on my own.”
That attitude is part of the Staintons’ trademark phrase. “On your own merit” became their favorite saying when Rian did not make the soccer team at her middle school and when she was relegated to junior varsity as a freshman in high school.
“She didn’t want to ever be viewed as if something was given to her, which I admire,” Rick said. “She wanted to do it on her own merit and build up her own reputation.”
When Rick was hired in December by UMBC after three seasons as an assistant at Georgetown, he said Iona coach Todd Plourde texted him, “Iona vs. UMBC?” Rick said he was amenable as long as Rian was.
“I was totally OK with it,” said Rian, who committed to the Gaels in June 2022. “I just think it’s a fun little exhibition.”
“Once I found out that she was OK with it, we laugh about it because we want to compete against each other,” said Rick, who agreed to a home-and-home series with Plourde. “We love each other on and off the field, but once the whistle blows, it’s going to be a competition, and she knows that as well as I do. Then when we come back together, maybe there will be some bragging rights.”
Both Rian and Rick said they would find their way to each other before the game for a greeting and a quick hug. Retrievers freshman midfielder Cheyenne Payne, who has known Rian Stainton since they were seventh graders and calls her “my soccer sister,” predicted Rian and Rick will put their family ties aside when the game begins.
“Both of them are very business-oriented as soon as they get on the field,” she said. “They’re competitors. But once the game is over, there will be hugs.”
Rian and Rick said they have entertained the idea of being on the same team, but both agreed that being separated is better for their own identities.
“I didn’t want to be known as the girl who played for her dad or because of her dad or anything like that,” Rian said. “I would have loved playing for my dad, but I need to make my own journey and make my own path.”
“Sometimes I see those kids with their parents, and I think, ‘Oh, it must be hard because they feel like they’re always being watched or they always have to know what they’re doing,’” Rick said. “I just want her to have the liberty of experiencing her own life.”
While younger sister Kylie, a high school sophomore, will not be able to attend Thursday’s game because of her participation in a school musical, Amy and several friends will be there. Rian and Rick said they understand the rare opportunity before them.
“I will definitely cherish this for a long time,” Rian said. “It’s not very common, and it’ll always be a memory no matter the result.”
“This will be something that we can always reflect back on when we talk to her children and my grandchildren about it,” Rick said. “It’s an experience that we’re definitely not going to take for granted because it’s something that doesn’t happen very often.”
Iona at UMBC
Thursday, 7 p.m.