New coaching faces on the sideline

For the first 22 years of the Champion girls soccer program, only one individual roamed the touchline for the Golden Flashes – Dan Houle.

For the 23rd year, however, Houle and his more than 200 career wins and three district titles are gone, and instead, last year’s junior varsity coach Shawnn Wilson will lead the team.

Wilson expressed the usual sentiments of taking over for a legend, but it’s not a new situation for him, as Wilson coached the boys varsity squad before switching to the girls and he also is the girls varsity track coach.

“It’s going to be hard to fill Dan Houle’s shoes,” Wilson said. “He started the program, and he’s somebody that I looked up to as a coach. So, not nervous, but excited to take over the girls.”

He inherits a depleted squad from the one that took home a district title and was one of the best defenses in Trumbull County, allowing just 17 goals all season. The Flashes graduated 10 players and lost another two key contributors to concussions, and the defense will be stocked full of new blood, as both center backs, including three-time all-state selection Jenna Parry, and goalkeeper Kelly Robinson are gone.

Despite all of these issues, Wilson said he has high expectations for this year’s team.

“I think the expectations of any program is to win a district title, also to go as far as you can go,” Wilson said. “So, when we practice, we keep that in mind. It doesn’t matter who we lost or who we have – that’s always going to be our goal.”

RETURN OF A FAMILIAR FACE: Following a three-year hiatus, Billy Roberts is back in as the John F. Kennedy girls soccer coach.

Coach of the Eagles for 13 years, Roberts was dealing with an inconsistent schedule working at the old R.G. Steel mill until it closed in 2012, but now that he’s back to a set schedule and found out the Kennedy job was open once more, he applied.

There was one problem, however. Roberts works nights, and sometimes it could be difficult to make late matches.

“I had to talk to the AD (John Gillen), who had to get an understanding that if I can’t be there through work, my daughter is my co-coach. So, if I can’t be there, it’s OK for her,” Roberts said. “Once we got that kind of worked out, I wanted to go back there.”

Working out that problem made it an easy decision to bring back Roberts, who sported a resume with a 141-71-23 record and never had a losing season while in charge of the Eagles. He earned the Ohio private school Coach of the Year award in 2001, the Youngstown district Coach of the Year in 2009 and Trumbull County Coach of the Year in 1998 and 2001.

While these accolades helped in his selection for the job, it will take some time to see the results on the field, he said. Roberts said he wants the Eagles to use an attacking style that allows defenders to go forward and forces players to interchange positions on the field.

“They overlap each other, switch positions on the fly – it’s a wide-open style,” Roberts said. “It’s going to take a little while, probably I’m figuring about the middle of the season, before we get back into that again.”

Roberts also is chasing something that eluded him in his first stint at Kennedy – a district title. The Eagles reached district semifinals seven times in 13 tries and made one district final appearance, but they couldn’t take that next step.

“When I was there, they still only had two divisions for girls, and every time we got into the playoffs and we got knocked out, it was usually by a bigger school,” Roberts said. “Now, they got three divisions, so hopefully, things will work out a little better for us.”