Indians adjusting to coaching change

By Joel Jellison

Mike Sanchez said the toughest part about being the new Manhattan High girls’ soccer coach was reaching the month of September, and knowing it would be March before it could take the field as a team.

When the team gathered at the open of spring practices, Sanchez said expectations were still elevated after a fourth-place finish at state last year.

“I think their expectations were high, and I think they come in and would like to do the same things they have done last year,” he said. “The expectations haven’t changed, it’s just about adjusting to a new coach.”

Sanchez admits there wasn’t much of a challenge to taking over the team for this season — off to a 1-0 start after a win at Topeka High. But he did say there was a slight challenge in changing philosophy.

“The challenge is getting the girls to understand a different style of play,” he said. “I don’t know what they did in practice in the past, but I want them to trust their coach, and the coach wants to trust the players. And I want them to be able to be players that advance past the high school level.”

Any time there is a coaching change in a team sport, a change in style is often a possibility, and that means a change for the players too. But that can often be harder when a team is coming off a season of success, and a coach is trying to tell them to do something different than what made them successful.

Sanchez said he knows they have started differently this year than the team did last season, but it was more about playing to the strengths of the team.

“I think every coach has their own philosophy and their own style of play,” he said. “Some are more offensive minded or defensive minded, and last year I think they went into more defensive shape in the first few weeks. This year we are doing more with creating off the ball.”

The Indians return the majority of their experience on the defensive side of the field, while still bringing a few players back offensively, including Onyeka Ehie, Bailey Snyder and Annissa Durar.

With all those players back on the defensive side, Sanchez said his confidence on that side is why they have focused early on improving their attacking ability. Plus, Sanchez having played center mid-field himself, his coaching style tends to be slightly more offensive.

“I think the strength of our team is definitely the back — that’s where we have more returners — so I don’t think we need to focus on that as much,” Sanchez said. “We are trying to get chemistry and coordination with the more offensive girls.

“We still return some good attacking players, but there were some holes left to be filled in, and I think those girls have really stepped up and accepted their roles.”

Although Snyder played forward and was a big scoring threat for the Indians last season, Sanchez said he chose to move her to the mid-field because of her abilities. That move and other position changes have presented some of the early challenges for the new coach this season.

“Bailey was more of a forward last year and I have asked her to be more of a center-mid this year, and the same with moving Willie Stockton,” he said. “I wanted to look to place them into the mid-field and let them use their skills, and so far it has worked out, and I think they have adjusted well.

“We’ve only had one game so it’s hard to really judge, but so far they all seem to be handling the moves well.”

Although it’s Sanchez’s first year as a varsity head coach, he is not without coaching experience. He has served as an assistant boys’ coach for a few seasons and had plenty of experience in the club coaching circuits. Sanchez said he has coached many of the kids at MHS, boys and girls, since they were playing U12 soccer.

“I don’t really think there is a whole lot of adjustment — it’s a little different from club though because every game counts,” he said. “It’s not like club where you can go and not have such a good game and look to improve on the next one. For us every game is important, we’ve got to be able to adjust and regroup when we need to.”

The Indians will play their second game of the season on Saturday at Blue Valley-Stilwell.

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