Coaching carousels don't usually bode well for teams at any level, let alone high school.
So when St. Francis de Sales athletic director Craig Shaman was left without a coach just a week before the girls soccer season began, the outlook appeared grim. Into the breach stepped Jorge Sanchez, the father of a St. Francis student who, ironically, doesn't play the sport herself.
Nevertheless, the elder Sanchez was ready, willing and able to take the reins of the fourth-year program.
"We had talked in the fall because I was kind of looking for a soccer coach back then, but nothing really developed," Shaman said. "So I just knew he was out there.
"Then when I needed a coach, his daughter mentioned that he'd be interested, so I got back in touch with him. We went through the hiring process real quick and we got him on board."
While the task of hiring Sanchez was under way, Shaman actually had to conduct the first few practices of the season himself. Meanwhile, the players weren't sure what to expect.
"We were pretty nervous because we didn't know how it was going to be," senior defender Alexis Arambula said. "We still didn't know through the first practice games who the coaches were going to be. After about a week, we got to know the coaches and got a feel for them, and that really improved us a lot."
Sanchez, an East Chicago native who has coached soccer at various venues throughout the region, was excited to take the high school job.
"I was coaching just around the area and in parks," Sanchez said. "I just finished the season in my son's 10-and-under indoor league. I also did some under-10 coaching in Hammond."
The veteran Pioneers team Sanchez is now guiding has made his soccer life that much more enjoyable. St. Francis' roster features six seniors, five of whom have been playing on the varsity level for all four years of the program's existence.
"When we started as freshmen, we were all really scared that year," Arambula said. "We were taking the field against older kids with a lot more experience, but we got better for it."
After finishing 2-12-1 last season, the Pioneers are approaching .500 this year. They currently own a 5-6-1 record and share second place in the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference.
"It's been interesting and it's gone very well," Sanchez said. "The girls are acclimating and have really been coming along this year. I think we're peaking at the right time."
Sanchez's assistants are Norberto Lopez Sr. and Norberto Lopez Jr., father and brother to the Pioneers' leading scorer, Miriam Lopez. The players say that the coaching staff has meshed well with the team.
"He has a really good sense of humor and he can relate to us," Arambula said of Sanchez. "All our coaches really know a ton about the game, so they're able to tell us everything we're doing right or wrong."
As a reward for their success with the girls team, Sanchez and the Lopezes have been hired to take over St. Francis' boys program next fall.
"I was so pleased that I've also made him the boys head coach," Shaman said of Sanchez. "As the girls season went along and I got familiar with him and saw how well they were doing, I thought, ‘Hey, he can work with the boys, too.'"
For the time being, though, the girls season is all that matters to Sanchez. The Pioneers will be looking to secure their first-ever postseason victory next Saturday, when they take on Mt. Assisi in the Peoria Christian Regional.
And the seniors who have been a part of the program from its infancy would like nothing better than to go out on a high note.
"We were all excited about senior year," Arambula said. "All of us had that mentality that we could do well this season, and I think so far we've been pretty successful."