The Belen High School girls soccer program will be led by a new head coach this season, but one who is something of a familiar face around Belen High School athletics.
Ernest Gonzales, who had a prior stint as an assistant baseball coach, was named the new girls soccer coach this spring by athletic director Steven Contreras. Gonzales takes over the program from Ricardo Varela, who led the team for three seasons and oversaw a 1-18 record a season ago.
Gonzales has lived in Belen for more than 30 years and has been coaching for much of that time.
“I’ve coached Belen Little League, AYSO; I was an assistant baseball coach at Belen from 2007-12, and I was the varsity pitching coach,” Gonzales said. “Work got in the way so I had to stop, but I retired in June.”
Gonzales, who had two children play sports at Belen, said he has been a supporter of BHS athletics for a long time.
“I’ve seen different programs here go to a state-championship level,” Gonzales said. “I felt like these young ladies in Belen are so determined, so eager to learn. They don’t lack for desire and they play hard.”
Gonzales has hired former Belen soccer players Deidra Garcia and Marysa Baca as his assistants.
“They’re very dynamic young ladies; they can’t wait to get out here,” Gonzales said. “The girls didn’t get to meet them this summer because their coaching licenses hadn’t been approved.”
Although the team was only allowed to practice for three weeks this summer before tightening regulations shut the season down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gonzales said he had about 30 athletes coming to practices consistently.
He said with so many players interested, the program will have enough players for a junior varsity team as well, which Gonzales says they lacked last year.
The new coach doesn’t take over the program with a specific tactical approach in mind. He wants to adapt to what suits his personnel best, whatever that looks like.
“One thing I told them during my interview was I’d like to focus on fitness, fundamentals and then we’ll worry about tactics,” Gonzales said. “Every day, conditioning will be the same. We’ll lift weights throughout the season to help recover from injuries. I’m going to run it like a high-end program.”
He also has plans to help ensure the long-term future of the program, and has been talking with the city about setting up a Belen youth soccer league to be held at Eagle Park in order to get more and more children playing soccer from an early age.
To go along with this, he wants to get the team into elementary schools and reading to classes, outreach that has been done by other athletic programs at the school, but hasn’t been done within girls soccer.
There are four seniors on this year’s squad — Daniella Corral, Dekoda Sparks, Grace Romero and Samantha Duran — and Gonzales expects them to be able to lead the program this year, and establish a tradition of senior leadership to carry the program forward.
Due to changes in the schedule due to COVID-19, the soccer season is scheduled to being on Feb. 15, though that is subject to change depending on applicable public health orders from the state at the time.