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Coaching Cousins

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Coach Steve Kuhlman led the Moeller rugby squad for eight years and Coach Sara Kuhlman runs the Mount Notre Dame lacrosse team. Although these sports have little in common, the player experience under these two leaders is comparable: Winning counts, but faith comes first.

Sara and Steve, both 30, are first cousins. They credit their grandparents, parents and Catholic school upbringings for developing them into the coaches they are today.

“I think growing up in today’s society, I feel like a lot of people sway away from their religion,” Sara said. “For me, that’s never really been a question because my grandma has just always instilled such a strong faith base in our family and I just admire her so much. I’m just super lucky to have a mom, a dad and a sister whose faith is so strong and that we all just kind of get it. And it’s just our everyday norm. We always have something to thank God for.”

“[Our families] really drove the importance of the Catholic faith and representing our last name,” said Steve. “That was instilled in us from the time we were born.”

An active parishioner at All Saints in Kenwood, Steve is a 2010 graduate of Moeller and member of the 2010 state championship rugby team. He returned to Moeller as a math teacher and coach in 2014. He is stepping into the background as an assistant coach for next season, after leading the team to back-to-back state championship matches in his last two years. He’s pleased with the wins, but quickly adds that championships aren’t the ultimate purpose.

“The goal and the mission of our program is to make better leaders in the community, better future fathers and husbands and obviously, better rugby players. But it’s hard to be the best husband and father possible if you’re not rooted in faith, and it’s hard to be a good community leader if you’re not rooted in faith. So, the mission of our program kind of guides our direction. This isn’t just all about rugby. It’s about building the best man we possibly can, which is through faith and prayer and understanding our Catholic faith.”

Sara, who worships at St. Margaret of York in Loveland, is a 2010 graduate of Mount Notre Dame. She played Division I lacrosse in college after a standout high school career and went on to coach college lacrosse at the Division I level. In 2019, she moved back to Cincinnati for grad school, and the head coach position at her alma mater became available—just in time for a pandemic.

After one canceled season, she led the team to consecutive competitive seasons, but, like Steve, she seeks to instill a Catholic identity in her team.

“I think that they understand that it’s important to me and that it is in a sense a non-negotiable for me that I want them to have that [faith background.] I want them to pray and spend a couple minutes with their team before school, going and receiving communion. I think that they’ve reacted really well to that.”

Coaching strategy on the field differs in each sport, but the two use each other as a sounding board. “We bounce ideas off of each other and discuss how we deal with players and playing time and parents,” Sara said. “I think as coaches we have a very straightforward coaching style.”

While faith is at the forefront of both coaches’ programs, there’s also a measure of friendly family competition. Whether it’s video games or playing sports on family vacations, both Kuhlmans are always angling to win.

“We’re super close,” Sara said. “We’ve always grown up competing with each other and, whenever we were doing something, we always wanted to be on the same team because we knew that we could trust each other—and that we would probably win.”

This article appeared in the September 2022 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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