ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Many girls dream of playing soccer for a team in the powerful, prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference.
A decade ago, Heather Dyche lived that dream.
Now, with Dyche’s help, Lilias Gordon is soon to live hers.
Gordon, a junior at Bosque School, plays center defender for Dyche’s Rio Vista Riot under-17 club team. Recently, Gordon made an oral commitment to play for Wake Forest starting in the fall of 2011.
“About a week before (her commitment), I went out for an unofficial visit and saw the campus, met the coach and a couple of players,” Gordon said in a phone interview. “The soccer is incredibly competitive, but more than that, the coach (Tony da Luz) just seems like someone I want to play for.”
Wake Forest, a private institution based in Winston-Salem, N.C., also is strong academically.
State Cup: Championship games, Sunday, all day, State Farm Soccer Complex
Far West Regionals: June 21-27, Soccer Complex
“That was another big part of making a decision,” Gordon says, “… I want to go into the humanities, but more specific than that I don’t quite know yet.”
Gordon also was considering Central Michigan, Middle Tennessee State and Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. All three schools have strong women’s soccer programs at their level, but she opted for the highest level available to her.
“I always wanted to play for the most competitive college I could,” she says, “and it doesn’t get a whole lot more competitive than the ACC.”
At Bosque School, playing for coach Ed Cole, Gordon helped the Bobcats win a Class 1A-3A title in 2008. Bosque made the state semifinals last year as Gordon earned first-team all-state honors.
Most college soccer recruiting, though, is done at the club level.
Gordon has played for Rio Vista for five years, all with Dyche as her head coach.
It has been, both say, a perfect fit. Dyche not only played soccer in the ACC; she played the same position that Gordon does.
“I think anytime you’ve played a position, you certainly have a familiarity with it,” Dyche says. “I feel like I had a lot of game experience that I could pass on to Lilias at that position.
“I hope that part of her success has come from me, certainly.”
Gordon says there’s no doubt.
“It doesn’t get a whole lot better,” she says, “than being coached by someone who played the exact same position and knows all the tiny details about positioning, attitude and everything. Absolutely, I would say (being coached by Dyche) has been invaluable.”
Dyche, a 1997 Eldorado graduate, was an all-state performer in soccer and basketball for the Eagles. She played at Nebraska as a freshman but then transferred to ACC member Florida State, where she was team captain as a senior.
It seems fair to say Dyche was born to coach soccer.
At age 11, in order to finance trips to soccer camps, she started her own soccer camp. She was coaching club soccer as a teenager while still attending Eldorado.
After finishing her career at Florida State, she returned to Albuquerque and launched her professional coaching career.
Despite having undergone 11 surgeries during her college career, she still plays in local outdoor and indoor leagues.
“I love this game,” Dyche says. “I love everything that it’s given me, regardless of the actual games — just life lessons through sport.
“The opportunity to give that back to kids, to me, is just very rewarding.”
Having the opportunity to coach Gordon, she says, has been its own reward.
“Lilias, as a soccer player, is incredibly good in the air,” Dyche says. “She’s incredibly good at heading, which is kind of unusual for females.
“She’s incredibly fit, and she’s a very intense kid, but in such a positive way. And she’s an incredibly hard worker, one of the best work ethics I’ve ever seen in my life.”
The decision to attend Wake Forest was Gordon’s own, Dyche says, but she more than supports it.
Wake Forest, which made the NCAA quarterfinals, last November, ended the season ranked 14th in one poll and eighth in another. In both polls, seven ACC schools are ranked in the top 25.
“It’s an incredibly difficult conference, but also an incredibly fun one,” Dyche says. “Often, when you play (current national champion) North Carolina, you’re playing against national-team players.
“That’s pretty exciting for Lilias to be able to do that.”
This month, Dyche, Gordon and their Rio Vista club have been playing in the U.S. Youth Soccer New Mexico Open State Cup. The Riot defeated Classic FC Matrix 6-2 in their first-round game, tied LC Sharks 0-0, then beat Albuquerque United FC 93 3-0 in the semifinals. They face the LC Sharks in Sunday’s final.
Also coming up is the U.S. Youth Soccer Far West Regional Championships on June 21-27 at the State Farm Soccer Complex. The last time New Mexico hosted the Regionals was in 2001.