New coach, new identity ready to lead Helena in 2024

Published 10:55 am Thursday, February 1, 2024

By TYLER RALEY | Special to the Reporter

Helena heads into the 2024 season with a new face at the helm, and the team feels more comfortable as time ticks down towards game one.

As the Huskies enter coming off of a 11-10-2 record last year, former Helena Middle School coach Kelly Koch makes the move up to the high school level, ready to push her squad in the right direction.

“This is my first season as head coach,” Koch said. “Most of the boys I have coached at the middle school level and then obviously sent them to the high school, didn’t coach there. So it’s kind of like a little reunion being able to be back with them as they’ve grown up. I feel like they have all welcomed me and have accepted me and kind of what the vision is for the team, for the year. I think we’re all really excited about possibilities and opportunities that we have this year with some of our players.”

Being a new head coach presents a number of challenges no matter the school, with one of them being trying to get to know the team. Koch has not faced that, and that has made her transition easier.

“It’s been great because it’s not like coming in fresh,” Koch said. “It’s really just kind of picking up where we left off. I know how they play, I know how they are, I know their families. I already know a lot about most of them so it’s not coming in blind. I’m already having those relationships built and established, all of that stuff so we can hit the ground running day one.”

Koch’s arrival has also been well received by many of her former players. For a longtime player like junior Ryan Borden, his life has been greatly impacted by what Koch has done for him, and he will continue to carry that into this season.

“I really liked her as a coach my seventh-grade year,” Borden said. “She really made me fall in love with the game and to have her back, it’s just an honor at the high school level. I’m really excited.”

Not only are the players excited about the arrival of their coach, but they are also big on the change in culture that the team is pushing towards this year.

Koch believes that having unity is the basis for good performance on the field, which is something the players did not feel a lot of last season.

“I think one of our biggest goals is just team-building,” Koch said. “I think we had a lot of players that kind of butted heads last year, and players and coaches that there wasn’t always that chemistry. So that’s been one of my big goals this year is to make sure that we’re building that foundation of being a team from the very beginning, and then the skills and all of that will fall into place as it is.”

Those skills that the team has are largely based around speed. With seven players from last year’s starting lineup returning for this season, the team is looking to be more aggressive than it has been in recent seasons.

This shows in the strengths that the players have seen throughout preseason training, which they believe will impact them in a big way.

“I think we’re going to be compact in the middle,” senior goalkeeper Charlie Steel said. “We’re also going to be able to transition very quickly from defense to offense.”

One of those threats on the offensive side of the ball is Ivan Sanchez, who was a starter last year as a freshman. Koch says that since last season, Sanchez has grown and matured a lot, which will turn him into a key player going into the year.

The new coach also feels that her team has a solid amount of depth so that she can place different players into various spots, which will ultimately help that attacking identity.

“As we’re working through some new formations right now, I think we’ve had conversations over the last several days about who is going to fit into those roles,” Koch said. “We have a lot of flexibility in our play formations and players that we can fill into different spots.”

With those different spots come different leaders and great opportunities that the players strive to find as the year goes on. The goals for many of these veteran members is to take advantage of those opportunities and become better for them.

For captain Jack Hendrix, his goal for himself was short and sweet.

“I’m trying to take this captain role very seriously so I can become a better leader and everything like that,” Hendrix said.

As for coach Koch, she hopes that she can make a great impression on her players in her first season as the face of Helena soccer, one that will create a family atmosphere for years to come.

“My goal for this season is just to not let these boys down,” Koch said. “Advancing out of the area is always a goal of ours, but me as a coach is just to show them that I care about each of them to help them build that brotherhood and to build that family dynamic.”

A new era will begin at Helena when the Huskies and coach Koch make their debut on Feb. 6 at Spain Park before heading to the 2024 Varsity Boys Southern Shootout in Foley on Feb. 8.