Coach looking to turn Yokota into soccer power
March 27, 2013
YOKOTA AIR BASE — “Twenty-one strong – dig deep” is the pre-game cheer this year for the girls soccer team at Yokota High School, one of many motivating phrases being taught by first-year coach Nicole Angel.
Angel calls them her “affirmations,” challenging players to recite them by memory during practice.
“The girls really stick by them,” she said. “We’re very, very structured.”
And the results so far are encouraging for the Panthers (6-1-2), who were 17-7-1 last season, finishing sixth in the Far East Division I Tournament.
It’s the continuation of a turnaround from the lean years of 2010 and 2011, when they went a combined 10-20-5, with 10th- and sixth-place D-I finishes.
They so far have a positive goal differential of 17-3. The defense, led by sweeper Katelyn Sult and freshman goalkeeper Sarah Cronin, has recorded six shutouts. Yokota’s only loss was 2-1 March 9 in the opener at Nile C. Kinnick; the Panthers avenged that by handing the Red Devils their only blemish on last weekend’s DODDS Japan tournament ledger, a 1-1 draw.
Thus, many things are working early on for the Panthers despite losing three players responsible for 31 goals last season and entering the campaign with what Angel described before the season as a “very young” lineup.
“I don’t think anyone expected (the early success) – I did – I knew this was a special group from the first time I walked on the pitch,” Angel said.
Angel, the team’s first new coach in nine years, arrived at Yokota in August with her family and also came toting 16 years of girl’s high school soccer coaching experience in Alabama and North Carolina.
You could say soccer is in this family’s blood. Angel’s father, Darry Andrew, coached girls soccer at Mannheim for 30 years from 1976. Angel’s brother, Rick Andrew, was two times All-DODDS Europe and is currently coaching in Alabama. Angel played under her father in high school, six years of club ball in Germany and one year at the University of Maryland.
“I’m a DODDS kid,” she said. “I’m new, but I’m not to DODDS.”
Knowing the situation of high school sports on military bases, with players’ frequent comings and goings, Angel started her coaching tenure by recruiting for this season’s team, which has had to overcome the loss of scoring stars Gabby Navarro, Christina Raymond and Michaela Atchley.
First, she found an assistant coach with college playing experience, Manny Broderick. Then, she went for players, including her freshman goalkeeper who has four weeks of soccer experience but five of the team’s shutouts.
Angel said credit for the stingy defense also goes to the speedy and senior-heavy back line: Sult, stopper Emily Beemsterboer and outside back Meghan Mitchell. Mitchell’s younger sister, sophomore Emily, balances out the back of Angel’s 4-4-2 formation.
The dominant defense has allowed Yokota to control play at times entirely in their opponent’s half, increasing scoring chances for senior striker Anju Yamanaka (six goals) and sophomore running mate Sarah Claypool.
Angel seemed particularly pleased with her team’s overall aggressive play, praising them for winning the majority of 50-50 balls and “just going in hard” on tackles.
Angel says she and Broderick nurture the competitive spirit in practice, like via a one-on-one drill that requires the players to sprint to the ball, fight for possession and maintain it under pressure for five seconds.
“We tell the girls to leave it all on the field,” Angel said.
And after the game this weekend at Matthew C. Perry, as she always does, Angel will call her father in Alabama to help analyze her players’ performances.
“I definitely don’t coach kickball – they play soccer,” Angel said.