After beating Erie on Monday, the Skyline boys soccer team improved to 11-1-2 on the season and is in the mix for a Tri-Valley League championship. In nearly eight seasons under head coach Luis Chavez, the Falcons have already won two league titles and have also won double-digit games for five seasons running.
Following Monday's win, I caught up with Chavez to get a feel for what have been the keys to the Falcons' sustained success since he took over.
Question: You guys are in the midst of a pretty significant run of success over the past half decade or so. For this season in particular, what has stood out to you most?
Chavez: I'm very proud of my boys, controlling what they can control and just looking solid. They're really playing consistent soccer and I'm looking forward to seeing the remaining of it, still with Wednesday's game and then going into the playoffs. Hopefully, we'll have a home advantage. We've got to finish.
Overall, this may be our most consistent, solid season as far as our confidence, as far as our skill level, our camaraderie, chemistry, I mean, all around I feel like this has been a great season.
It seems like your program has raised its expectations every season since you became head coach. How have things progressed over your tenure at Skyline?
It was great to see when winning was becoming a precedent. But now, this year, having the resources, having everything that we've got, the man-power, the skill level, the interest and the desire, has been great. We've had our hiccups and we've had our really-highs where we proved, and we were able to see, where we needed to be. As long as we keep this mentality, we'll keep shooting high as long as we can keep our feet on the ground and our head on our shoulders — that's always been my motto.
From day 1, it was interesting to see the dynamics and the mix of the players that were interested at the time. We started with a solid group, then all of them moved on. Then we started experimenting with street soccer players, mostly, and a few club players. We always had a lot of heart and a lot of good intentions, but we just couldn't get up there. It was a matter of building up. We just picked up where we left, and took it where we left from there, and we've had two conference championships already.
It's been great to see how we've gotten some top-notch kids to come in and put their hearts and their intentions into what we've continued to build. Our staff has contributed a lot to the chemistry that we've built. And the players' well-being, I feel, is being taken care of. For them to feel valued and appreciated, we're where we're willing to give it all for what we call our family. We started with a participation of 30, 35 at the most. We're up to over 70 kids this year. So we're up to four teams, which is a good headache to deal with. Now you're managing more people, more players, injury, eligibility, you name it, but we try not to cut anyone. Our biggest success stories are the kids who have never played, who come to enjoy and love the game.
OK Luis, could you give me an example of one of the those kids?
I'll tell you about one guy. He had never played but he came to watch one time at Mead High School. Just from watching, he said, 'that was my first time ever watching soccer.' That was two years ago when he was a sophomore. That was Jake Bladt, and now he's one of our goalies.
Those kinds of things are bigger successes to us (our coaching staff) than even getting to the postseason, if you ask me, honestly.
Coach, we've seen it in every sport but especially in some of the "academy" sports like soccer or tennis, there is an increasing overlap and the club programs are encroaching into the high school season. With more and more high school-aged players forgoing prep sports to focus on club year-round, have you had to battle this trend at Skyline High School?
You know, I think we have who we have. We've had a couple who have decided to do academy, which is their decision. But we haven't missed them much because the kids who have stayed and decided to take the journey with us have done great. They've done their duty, they've held their commitment, they've done their hours, they've made an effort to get along with the rest of the crew.
There are players out there who could have been here, but we don't think of it like they should have been here. We just could have been even stronger. Anyone who is here, is here. Anyone who is not here, isn't.
That's the beauty of the diversity that we have; the beauty of some of the players being disciplined enough because of previous organized soccer, and the beauty of those who have not been in organized soccer who have stepped up to be organized and have the respect for everyone who is working towards a common goal.
For us, as a family, we're working together. We're moving in the same direction. We're all buying into, 'Hey, let's make each other accountable. Let's just make sure that we take care of business, together.'
Luis, you are a special education teacher for the St. Vrain Valley School District, and your special assignment is to act as the homeless education liaison. How has your professional responsibility affected your approach to coaching high school sports?
It has come in handy, very much. I love working with the community and I love working with kids. My teaching background has a lot to do with just realizing: what do I need to do as a coach to also develop myself to get the right mindset, and to make sure that our staff, our players, and everyone feels welcome, valued and appreciated.
There are always going to be those unfortunate, those unappreciated. We can't save them all. But as long we get the majority to buy into the mission and the mission of our program, which is that we're providing an opportunity for everyone, we welcome everyone, and that everyone is valued and appreciated.