GIRLS SOCCER: North Port adapts to unexpected coaching change on way to district championship, regional berth

By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports

NORTH PORT — Change is often met with resistance.

This was certainly true for the North Port girls soccer team a few months ago when they reluctantly and unexpectedly had to adjust to a new coach.

Fresh off the first district championship in school history, and preparing for the Region 4A-3 quarterfinals tonight against Estero, it’s safe to say they’ve adapted.

“It was kind of hard because he was there the three years prior and we’d built up a bond,” captain Hayley Royer said of former coach Lee Thomas.

“We were all pretty used to Thomas’ ways and his style of coaching. There were a few attitudes, I guess you can say, of not wanting to adjust to anyone but Thomas. We’ve known each other for so long, so we came together because we knew any coach would be good for us.”

Thomas was essentially the only coach the girls had known, as he was program’s inaugural coach. 
The players were heartbroken when they learned the news, and some felt like the season was over before it had even started. Royer and Izzy Rogers, both seniors, knew this was their last chance for a district championship, and as captains, helped the team cope with the change.

“I just kind of told them we needed to keep it together because this was the year we could make history. No matter who is leading us, we are the team and we have each other.” Royer said.

One thing that helped the situation was the fact that Thomas was replaced by a familiar face in Bill Callan, who had been North Port’s junior varsity coach and already knew most of the girls on the team.

Callan credits his decision in an assistant coach as a big reason for a smooth transition.

“When I got the position I offered (Tony Freitas) the assistant coach position and I think having done that was a good move because the girls were very familiar with him,” Callan said. “I think they were less resistant to change because of both of us paired together.”

As the regular season progressed, the Bobcats began to grow under their new coach and continued to improve. After what was the team’s most successful season in school history last year, they came back this year for even more success.

The Bobcats topped Venice 4-2 last week in a thriller of a district title match. Which is an incredible feat, considering last year was the first time they had even defeated the Indians in the regular season.

“It’s a great feeling knowing we were so close last year and we actually got it this year,” Rogers said of the team’s district championship. “I didn’t think we were all going to meld together in a year.”

This North Port team isn’t a stranger to the regional playoffs anymore. They made it to this round a year ago, but this time around they’re in as district winners.

And even after initial doubt, hesitance turned into trust, which turned into some new hardware in the North Port trophy case.

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