It’s not easy to repeat as a state champion in practically every sport — and in boy’ Class 5A soccer, no team has won two in a row since 2011, when Eldorado claimed its second blue trophy in a row.
It just might be “worry-time” for Cleveland High coach Shaun Gill, whose team opened the 1-5A slate with back-to-back losses — 3-2 to visiting Rio Rancho and then 2-0 to Atrisco Heritage Academy “Just a little bump in the road,” he said to his players — at the APS soccer complex on Sept. 28.
The Observer sat down with Gill during the Storm JV game on the 28th, two hours before that loss to the Jaguars.
What was your life like after winning the 2018 state championship? It was kinda surreal, you know, working 10 years building up Cleveland, being at Cleveland and then just watching the progression, and finally it accumulated to what we’ve been working for for so long.
Getting ready for the ’19 season, did you make any changes, or was the process still the same? The cool thing is, we kept the same system; obviously, it worked. The guys have bought into it and the summer progression was just the same; we lost two solid defenders and a goalkeeper from the championship team, so we emphasized defense over the summer and worked with Andreas (Chacon) and Parker (Brush) a lot to take over goalkeeper duties.
What about the start of this season: Did you feel pressure? It’s a different kind of pressure: Trying to stay on top is a little bit harder and a little different mindset than trying to climb to the top, so there is a little pressure — self-imposed, probably. I still want to be at the top of the pile, but we have a huge target on our back and, of course, we get everybody’s best game — and I like that. The competition even when we’re playing a team a class or two below, Sandia Prep gave us an excellent game; Hope Christian played its ‘A’ game against us.”
You’re going to lose seniors every year, but what’s the theme — we rebuild or we reload — at Cleveland? It’s bittersweet; those seniors last year were great young guys and they great soccer players, and we did have a hole when they left. But the juniors, now seniors, stepped in and we kinda just reloaded — and hopefully it stays that way and we can maintain the quality of the JV program, the C team progressing up to the varsity program, it’s just reload and try it again.
Who’s the heart and soul of this team? We’ve got a couple of them, but Gabe (Legendre) is a huge factor as far as his leadership and the quality kid he is. He brings a little goofiness, but in a good way. He’s just a really, really likable young man and all the guys gravitate toward him because he’s got such a great personality.
Coaches always talk about getting their players better from year to year; how do you get better as a coach? I try to be a life-learner of the sport: I watch film, I’m on YouTube trying to pick up new drills, watching NCAA whenever I can … (and) at the collegiate level, there’s still some creativity and a lot of coaching techniques and stuff go into analyzing and breaking it down at the collegiate level. And whenever available, I try to see if I can get to a couple clinics.
How much tinkering do you do when the season’s underway? We try to gear up to who we’re playing; we relate it to the guys that it’s another rung on the ladder. So we played Rio Rancho; that one’s done, we can’t do anything about it. The next rung is Atrisco, so we spent two days training (on some of the) tendencies; I’ve scouted them a couple times and we also have film on when we played them in the Metro. ‘OK, boys, this is how we can be successful against how they play, and this is where we need to do and what we need to do against them,’ so it’s usually a game-by-game, where we try to do two to three training sessions for the next game. (Gill said to get ready for the game vs. AHA, they narrowed and shortened their own turf field to simulate the smaller fields at the APS soccer complex.)
What are the drawbacks today to being a high school coach? I’ve been really blessed the last four or five years; I’ve had some really supportive parents. I think in this technology age that kids spend a lot more time on their phones and with video games than going outside and playing basketball, kicking the soccer ball — doing athletics at a young age. So when they’re in high school, they’re either way behind the curve and you have to catch them up, or they’re not interested — they’re not ‘athletes,’ so to find 30-40 young men to suit up three soccer teams that have played since they were 5 years old is a real rarity.
How many actual plays do you have that you can call? We’ve got a couple different kickoff plays; we’ve got three or four different corners (corner kicks) — you can go short, you can go long, you’ve got different guys running different places; for set pieces, anything, we’ve got a couple that are away from the box, we’ve got a couple that are in the box. Gabe and Nick (Legendre) usually call that on the field — they know where we are. I called a couple (plays) at Rio Rancho, but we didn’t put them in the back of the net.
Talk about your staff. I have a great staff. Garrett (York) started with me. (Plus there are) Amy Hinkle, Fernando Chavez, Andrew Hinkle and Andrew Burlingame (the new C-Team Coach). I rely 100 percent on my assistants and throughout the game I’m always asking them, ‘What do you see? What do we need to do different?’ So I rely on my assistants a lot of the time — I trust them implicitly. They’re all five of them help me a bunch; they’re great people: They’re there when we need them.