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Coach brings new philosophy to St. Mike’s

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

St. Mike’s Grace Sandoval, center, passes to teammate Olivia Farrar while being guarded by Los Alamos’ Olivia Bell during a game won 5-3 by the Hilltoppers on Tuesday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

It is not as if St. Michael’s needed much of a boost after reaching the Class 1A-3A girls state soccer championship game last season.

But the Horsemen seem to have gotten a bit of one anyway when new coach Maggie Feil took over the program for this season.

Feil, a veteran of Girls’ Inc. – an organization designed to empower, enlighten and promote strong, smart and bold girls – said coaching soccer falls right in line with that mandate.

“We do intentional and compensatory education for girls, for middle school and high school,” she said of her role with the organization. “I go in and talk with the girls about all the stuff that they don’t usually learn at school or at home.”

So coaching is taking that theorem to the field, Feil said.

“I really try to approach soccer with the idea that soccer is a lot of fun, and the competition is exciting and important to build character,” she said. “But it’s just one part of our growth, especially as a teenage student-athlete.”

That means Feil is using her skills to impart some life wisdom to the players and helping them translate that to success on the pitch.

“Absolutely, I think of my soccer team as another extension of one my groups from Girls Inc.,” she said. “I use all the tremendous tools that I’ve learned from Girls Inc. We work to build up strong team accountability, always work as a united front. It’s just a coaching philosophy with a holistic approach. They’re students and athletes, they’re humans. And they have other things going on in their lives that matter on various levels just as much, if not more.”

As she began coaching, Feil said it just felt natural to incorporate those philosophies, and the team seems to be accepting the change, even if it took a bit of time for it to take hold.

“Any change is hard, especially for a high school athlete,” she said. “Growing pains are inevitable, no matter what.”

But the angst and issues that can sometimes plague girls’ teams is less in evidence.

“I don’t think of it as something that needs to be fought against,” Feil said. “I think that as just a coaching philosophy, we’re humans first. That’s who we are. As long as we can communicate honestly and freely with each other and build trust within our team to work through difficulties and work through challenges, then those issues that we tend to see more often in female teams or female sports, they’re less of an issue.”

St. Mike’s Rachel Morgan, center, flips a shot over Los Alamos goalkeeper Annika Fox and into the net to seal a 5-3 win for the Hilltoppers last Tuesday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

It took some team meetings for the philosophy to really take root and be accepted.

“In my early adulthood, I was raised by Girls Inc. and I was trained to establish group dynamics, establish cultural norms. We made a team agreement about how we were going treat each other, try to talk to each other, what effective communication sounds like, what we expect of each other on the field and what we expect from each other off the field. What I set aside for a 45-minute talk took two hours, but we all signed off on it. We’re treating each other with respect and working through things rather than just ignoring the human existence of challenge.”

The Horsemen are off to a solid 6-2 start, which included a strong 5-3 win Tuesday against perennial 4A powerhouse Los Alamos, which came on the heels of a disappointing, fall-from-ahead loss to Socorro.

“Every day, we use those key words, whether it’s ‘drive and passion,’ or ‘communication,’ or ‘respect,’ or ‘bringing your best for the day,’ ” Feil said. “Any one of those agreements, we all sort of chime in on them and it’s a very easy reminder to keep each other on track, which is a really powerful thing.”

And while all of this sounds great, Feil said to make no mistake that St. Michael’s has one simple goal at this point.

“We all have our eye on the state championship,” she said. “We all have a mutual understanding that the ultimate goal is to be in that state championship game and to give it everything we have up through every single game and, in that last game, the hope is to come out on top. The girls have a sense of redeeming themselves. They made it into the last game and they still have that taste in their mouths. They want it back.”