HOUSTON – Summertime for collegiate soccer coaches usually means coaching camps, taking recruiting trips and hoping their team culture is strong enough that your players put in preparation on their own for upcoming season. For the #HTownHustle staff, this isn’t enough.
"Our coaching staff is putting in extra work this summer to prepare for our first fall season together,” University of Houston Soccer Head Coach Diego Bocanegra said. “We are challenging ourselves by working with some of the best youth and professional players in the nation and world.”
Setting a strong culture is critical for a new head coach, and Bocanegra and staff are working hard to set the tone. In June, Omar Morales was named interim head coach of the Houston Dash. Bocanegra and Morales met when Morales spent time coaching soccer camps at Notre Dame where Bocanegra was the assistant coach for three years. Bocanegra reached out to congratulate Morales and offer any help. The Dash interim head coach accepted the offer, and named Bocanegra and Houston Assistant Coach Blair Quinn volunteer assistant coaches.
The duo spend their mornings at the Houston Sports Park where they’re working with Olympians, like two-time FIFA Player of the Year Carli Lloyd, and World Cup players from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, South Africa and the U.S.
“We want to set higher standards and set the example of work ethic for our players,” Bocanegra said. “If they see us consistently working on improving our craft, hopefully, they will have extra motivation to do the same."
The staff isn’t just working with high-caliber professional players. Bocanegra and Houston Assistant Coach Danesha Adams are also training some of the top youth players in South Texas at the U.S. Soccer National Training Centers. In addition to the monthly training sessions in College Station, the pair coached the South Texas squad against the U.S. U15 National Team.
Adams is also working with The Region III Olympic Development Program. Joining volunteer assistant Cami Koski, Adams and Quinn in coaching at college camps across the country this summer.
Bocanegra is no stranger to creating a strong team culture. While an assistant coach at Notre Dame, he helped lead the program to the 2016 ACC regular-season title as the Fighting Irish finished their conference season with a record of 7-1-2, part of an overall record of 13-3-5. Notre Dame advanced to the NCAA Tournament in each of the three seasons with Bocanegra on staff. With 15 players earning All-ACC selections, two of which were selected in the NWSL College Draft.
Bocanegra also comes from a family with a rich soccer tradition, led most notably by his younger brother, Carlos, who is a former U.S. Men's National Team captain and two-time FIFA World Cup participant (2006 and 2010).
After being hired on Dec. 5, 2016, Bocanegra knew to create a strong culture he needed to add an outstanding staff. His first hire, Quinn, is a well experienced collegiate coach with coaching experience at New Mexico State and his most recent collegiate stint at Arizona State.
While at Arizona State, Quinn helped the Sun Devils’ soccer program return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003 as well as coaching the goalkeepers’ to a 1.05 goals against average, the program’s lowest since 2007.
With a coach with strong collegiate background, Bocanegra’s next hire not only was a collegiate standout but had professional and international playing experience. Adams led UCLA to four NCAA College Cup appearances, was a three-time Pac-10 Conference First-Team selection, two-time Hermann Trophy finalist and was a finalist for the Pac-10 Player of the Year.
While playing at UCLA, Adams also represented the United States of America, playing with the U-20 and U-23 Women's National Teams, and earned her first cap with the Women's National Team in 2006. Following her career at UCLA, Adams was selected as the sixth pick in the 2008 WPS Supplemental Draft and played professionally from 2009-2010 with the Chicago Red Stars. Adams also played overseas in Norway, Sweden and Turkey.
Bocanegra’s final piece wasn’t too far away. Koski, who serves as a volunteer assistant coach, was a four year letter-winner for the Cougars, ending her collegiate career as one of the top keepers in program history. In the inaugural season of the American Athletic Conference, the then-senior was named the American Athletic Conference Goalkeeper of the Year in 2013 as well as being selected First Team All-Conference, a first in program history. During her time at Houston Koski was also named to the 2010 Conference USA All-Freshman Team and C-USA Second Team All-Conference in 2010 and 2012.
The #HTownHustle staff is demonstrating that the hustle begins with the coaches. The staff has provided a foundation for a new team culture and all eyes are on Aug. 1 when student-athletes report for training.
“It is very exciting to be coached by individuals that are also working hard with Olympic and professional athletes,” senior midfielder Hannah Dauzat said. “It speaks to the quality and professionalism of our coaching staff. Our team is truly learning from the best, and I’m honored to be a part of this team.”
The Cougars look to improve on last season’s 6-7-3 record. The #HTownHustle will travel to San Antonio, Texas, for an exhibition game against UTSA on Aug. 13 before opening the season at home against Texas Southern on Aug. 18 at Carl Lewis Complex.
“We are very excited to build something special here at UH,” Bocanegra said. “The amount of growth that we saw from the team this spring is very encouraging. Their willingness to push themselves out of their comfort zone and break through barriers has already helped lay a strong foundation. Now, we get to build on that foundation and take the next steps forward as we prepare for the 2017 fall season together."
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