With the first day of class just around the corner and a head coach off the payroll, Sonia Goujon and the rest of her Santa Fe High girls soccer teammates took matters into their own hands.
A couple of times in July, she and the other players wrote to each other about meeting on the school pitch to do their own workouts.
No trainers, no real plan – but a lot of structure.
“We didn’t have a coach and we didn’t get any training so we decided to do it ourselves,” said Goujon. “We got out of here and did our own thing until they brought someone in.”
As it turned out, maybe it was the best thing that happened to the demons. Just time taught the players how to communicate strategies to one another and how each of them could do things better. A natural chain of leadership developed with players monitoring themselves.
“I think everyone has learned to talk to each other about what we should do,” said team captain Jazzi Gonzalez. “There wasn’t a coach telling us what to do, so we had to listen to each other.”
The result was the basis of the best season in school history, in which the demons have already set school records for wins and goals scored – with a quarter of the regular season schedule still to be played.
The team crept into the top 10 of class 5A in September and cracked the top 5 a week or two ago. They held their flawless record until Saturday when Albuquerque High scored the winning goal in double overtime three minutes from time. The Bulldogs 3-2 win dropped Santa Fe High to 14-1 overall and 4-1 in District 5-5A, half a game behind Albuquerque High after a split between the two club meetings.
“I told the girls that losing [Saturday] It’s not the worst thing in the world that we’re doing well, ”said head coach Justin Najaka. “It takes some pressure off, because the longer you’re on the road with an unbeaten record, the more people pay attention to it. The goal is no longer that big. “
A virtual suspension to the 5A state tournament, Santa Fe High was the last undefeated team in 5A. If the demons win, they’ll get at least one tie for the district title and are likely to finish in the top four in the state tournament.
As nice as it all sounds, the Demons are a team that proudly traces its roots back to what happened in the weeks and months leading up to the season. Najaka’s appointment as coach changed culture and removed an environment that some players found not entirely comfortable.
“The best thing about Justin is that he lets us figure things out without telling us what to do,” said Gonzalez. “He doesn’t talk to players like most coaches, at least not what we’re used to.”
“He’s not a screamer,” said goalkeeper Molly Wissman. “He really just talks to you and explains things to you. He’ll give you suggestions and let you do what you need to do. He’s not out here shouting instructions. “
While Najaka isn’t saying he’s a middle-aged man who found the Rosetta Stone and learned the secret of perfect communication with teenagers, he has learned that the most effective way to get your point across is to be calm stay and his players feel as equal participants in every conversation.
“I mean, when they say they like the way I do what I do, it’s great,” he said after a recent win over Rio Grande. “When I got in here, I saw a team with a lot of talent and lots of young players who will be here for a while. They were already good when I arrived, so I didn’t see the need to make a lot of big changes. “
Perhaps the biggest change has been just empowering the girls and making them believe that they are capable of bigger and better things. Just three weeks before the start of the season, he was on the sidelines on the day the Demons traveled to St. Michael’s and defeated the reigning 1A-3A champions, their first victory over the Lady Horsemen since 25 Years.
From there it started. Before the game on Saturday, they had outdone their opponents 97-2 behind a ball control offensive under the leadership of Gonzalez and senior Allison Segura-Maze. The two have scored 49 goals together, while Goujon and Asha Smelser scored 21 goals.
Barring unforeseen setbacks, the future for girls’ soccer at Santa Fe High is brighter than ever.
Goujon and Segura-Maze are two of only four seniors in the roster, one full of talented underclassmen and solid players at the subvarsity level.
Of course, setbacks also include injuries. Najaka said junior defender Margarita Marion suffered a knee injury on Saturday that could keep her out for a while. In the same game, second midfielder Lily Earnest suffered a concussion that could keep her off the line-up for at least a week.
Regardless, the demons are here to stay – and all signs point to those early days in the heat of summer.
“We were already close,” said Wissman. “But being out here alone and having Justin is a lot more fun now.”