Progress can be measured by the difference between teaching and coaching.
Alvin Valdez was doing more teaching than coaching with the Santa Fe High girls soccer team in preparation for the 2018 season. This August, the Demonettes’ fourth-year head coach is doing more of the latter, and it feeds his expectations that this could be The Year.
Not the year that Santa Fe High wins the District 5-5A title, but the year it advances to the Class 5A State Tournament. It would mark the second time in the past 21 years the Demonettes advanced to the postseason, and the first time since 1998 that they do it in the big-school division.
Valdez has high hopes after Santa Fe High went 9-8-2 last season and 3-6-1 in the district, especially since this was the year he expected it to happen.
“If everything goes to plan the way I planned it from when I first started, this should be the year we make a state tournament appearance,” Valdez said. “There is no reason, with the talent we have and the quality of players we have, that we shouldn’t be in the top two in our district. Some things can go horribly wrong, but I am not anticipating it.”
It could be said that Santa Fe High already had to deal with a plan going wrong when it lost forward Haley Ammerman before the season began to a knee injury. It upset Valdez’s design of moving Cassie Mazulis from up top to the back line to help improve the defense, even though she had never played there. He committed to it, and the move helped solidify the Demonettes’ defense as it allowed just 26 goals all season and had only one match in which it allowed more than three goals.
“I remember my eighth grade year, we were getting mercy-ruled 10-0 every single time, even before the first half ended,” Mazulis said. “So, we’d have to finish the first half and lose 12-zero, 15-zero. I think the difference is that we have girls who have played soccer before, and girls who want to play the sport.”
Valdez echoed those sentiments, even though the team is comprised mainly of underclassmen and eighth graders. He points to freshman Molly Wissman as an example, as she will start in goal for the Demonettes. Wissman has been a regular on the New Mexico Rush club soccer teams, and Valdez said that experience spurred him to name her the goalkeeper.
“She’s a leader,” Valdez said. “She’s one of those people who is a general on the field. Her technique is great, her talking is great, and she is just young. I can only imagine how much she’s going to grow in the next few years.”
Even though she missed last season, Ammerman saw her absence on the field as a chance for her to grow. Ammerman said watching from the sideline helped her understand the game better than if she were playing.
“If there was a better way to be in that position than getting injured, I would say everybody should do that,” Ammerman said. “I think the best soccer players in the world have had an injury where they had to sit and the only thing you can do, besides physical therapy, is sit there and watch the game. The pressure’s off of you and you can just pay attention.”
Ammerman paid enough attention to know that Santa Fe High needs to score more goals if it wants to reach the postseason. The team managed just 24 goals in 2018, and only had one goal in the final five matches as a 1-4 slump quashed any hopes of advancing to the state tournament. In fact, Mazulis tied for the team lead in goals with five despite being a defender.
Playing a new position was a challenge for Mazulis, but she played well enough to earn honorable mention All-State recognition.
“I played striker my whole life and going to a position I knew nothing about was definitely scary,” Mazulis said. “I think coach really helped me with that. He told me I was good enough to play here. It was his words of wisdom that really got me through it.”
Valdez’s word for this season is “tactical.” Because the Demonettes are a better-skilled group than they were a year before, Valdez is working more on set plays, and on helping the team see the field better rather than spending time working on ball handling.
“We’re working on how to read the field and how we can make our team better in terms of our shape and our system of play, so we can score and shut down teams more effectively,” Valdez said. “It’s like night and day. It’s that simple. Being able to work on that is so much more convenient.”
Such is the convenience of coaching a team instead of teach it.