WATERBURY — There is much to be said about making a good first impression. Naugatuck soccer coach Joe Campos certainly did so in his first high school coaching job, leading Chase Collegiate to the New England Championship tournament semifinals this past season.
Campos was hired by former Chase Athletic Director Ray Behr to take over for Karl Schwoerke, who guided the Highlanders for the past 24 seasons and moved on to take the head coaching job at Wooster Academy.
The Naugatuck coach came in with an impressive resume, which includes being named the Connecticut Junior Soccer Association Coach of the Year in 2014. But Campos had never coached at the high school level and certainly had his hands full in his first season.
Before the first practice Chase Collegiate hired a new athletic director, Logan Condon, to take over for Behr who retired. Armed with only three returning varsity players and a junior varsity team that didn’t win a game or score a goal the previous season, Campos had his work cut out for him.
“It was a bit of a difficult transition at first,” Condon said. “The kids all knew the former coach and Joe was the new guy. But he is a very charismatic guy the kids found out early on that he had their best interest on and off the field.
“We are pleased with the team’s success and the achievements made. I’ve discussed numerous times with Joe how we can build on the foundation he’s set this year. For me being a first-year athletic director I really lucked out getting a coach like Joe to take over the program.”
Campos recalled the first practice when he had the team run six laps to warm up and the team told him they usually only ran one. That’s when he made the team a commitment.
“I told them, I can’t promise you what our wins and loss record will be. But if you listen to my instructions and you give me everything you got and work hard, I can promise that we will be competitive,” Campos recalled.
Senior captains Jason Zoldy (Watertown), Alden Landry (Middlebury) and Ethan Vance (Beacon Falls) led the way for the Highlanders to a 10-4-2 finish and the New England semifinals.
“I knew we were going to be OK after we played in the Waterbury Jamboree,” Campos said. “We played to a scoreless tie against Crosby, Wilby and Holy Cross and lost a 1-0 game to Kennedy and they went on to win the Jamboree.
“We all know what Crosby did making it to the NVL semifinals. I challenged our kids and told them they could compete with anyone. They started to believe in each other.”
Vance, who never played goalie before, started to play with confidence and the team started to put games into the win column. Zoldy went on to break the school record in goals scored for a season at 28 goals, surpassing the 1985 mark set by Tim Fitzpatrick, a Naugatuck attorney.
“I told Jason early in the season that he had the skills to break the record,” Campos said. “He laughed it off at first but every time he scored a goal I would put up a finger counting down towards the record. That’s when he started to believe, looking for his shot and we become a successful team.
“My philosophy is if you play defense you can put yourself in a position to win games. We will figure out the offensive part as we go and once Jason gained some confidence we had both parts of the game going.”
The trust the team put in their new head coach came in the first game of the season when they had to play against their former coach and Wooster Academy. The Highlanders came away with more than a 3-1 victory. They came away with confidence in themselves and their new head coach.
“I tried to instill in my kids to have respect for the opposing coaches, players and referees. I had them set goals for themselves and I never judge a season by wins and losses,” Campos said. “I think I got more joy out of coaching them then they got out of a successful season.”