WATERBURY — Joe Campos had over 30 years of experience coaching soccer under his belt when he walked onto the campus of Chase Collegiate School five years ago, but he had never coached at the high school level.
After leading the Highlanders to their first Housatonic Valley Athletic League championship since 2007 and the semifinals of the New England Prep School Athletic Conference Class D tournament in the fall, Campos was named Connecticut Prep School Soccer Coach of the Year. He will be honored at the All-State dinner Jan. 19 at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville.
“We have former college coaches and former professional soccer players coaching in this league, and to be named for this honor, I was shocked,” said Campos, a Naugatuck resident. “I was the 2015 Connecticut Junior Soccer Coach of the Year, but to be recognized at the high school level is very humbling.”
“I don’t coach to get any awards. I coach because I love the game of soccer,” he added. “But what a feeling it was when they announced my name as coach of the year and my players were so excited, jumping up and down.”
Campos made an immediate impression at Chase. He guided the team, which returned just three starters, to a 10-4-2 mark and the semifinals of the New England Prep School championship in his first year.
“The following year we lost every game,” Campos recalled. “I went to the athletic director with a plan but needed their help to implement it. I was looking for good student-athletes that I could build this program around.”
Campos was patient and methodical in building the program. After struggling through a couple of lean years, Chase Collegiate began to rise through the ranks with the help of three local players: Joe Scarpati of Prospect and Naugatuck residents Patrick Osiecki and Jaiden Paniagua.
In 2018, the Highlanders went 5-7 and reached the second round of the HVAL playoffs. Campos was selected to coach at the Western Connecticut Prep School All-Star game.
This season, Campos added more “Chase kids” to the roster, including six from his hometown.
“The key was we got what I call Chase kids,” Campos said. “Kids that had soccer skills and a commitment to the classroom. It was not about bringing in the best soccer players, it was more about taking great athletes who had a commitment to excel in academics.”
The Highlanders started the 2019 season slowly with a 3-4 record before winning six straight. Chase rode that momentum to a league title and semifinal berth in the New England Prep School tournament.
“The foundation was in place, the players were in place, but there are certain things you can’t plan for,” Campos said. “Patrick Osiecki, who had 15 goals as a freshman, went down with an injury in the opening jamboree. We could do one of two things: learn from adversity or fold. I told the kids we can build off this, and a lot of the players stepped up to the challenge.”
“The key was they trusted in what I was saying to them,” he added. “They believed in what I told them and they believed in themselves. We are excited for what we have built. We have ten players coming back.”