South Whidbey girls soccer get fresh start from new coach

Brian McCleary will take the reins of South Whidbey's girls soccer program.

Sometimes, a fresh start can be the best thing for a program.

The ailing South Whidbey girls soccer team is a prime example for such an occurrence.

After a winless 2014 season, former head coach Ben Rusch stepped down and handed the reins off to Brian McCleary.

McCleary, a Langley resident who works as an energy advisor for Puget Sound Energy, isn’t the most experienced head coach. He played soccer as a kid, but didn’t pursue it in high school or college. He also coached four years of recreation league soccer.

It begs the question — is he adequate to coach?

McCleary asked himself the same question.

“Well I didn’t think so at first, that’s why I was really hesitant to even consider it,” McCleary said.

“But there wasn’t really anyone else willing to step up so I did it. The learning curve is really high because I’m taking on the program.”

But what McCleary lacks in experience, he makes up for in his soft-spoken approach.

“He’s calm with our girls,” said senior Kendra Warwick. “It’s nice to have him because he’s so soft-spoken.”

McCleary has utilized the help of his assistants Terry Swanson and Ernie Merino, as well as two physical therapy graduates from the University of Washington to help rebuild the program.

McCleary’s primary focus has been building the conditioning of the players to ensure injury prevention, which was a problem that plagued last year’s squad, he said.

“It’s really more about recognizing what they need and trying to accommodate that,” McCleary said. “I think that I’ve got down enough to where I can do a good job. I always ask other coaches that I know questions and the community has been really supportive because they want to see the program succeed, especially after last year.”

Junior Leah Rostov has noticed the fresh enthusiasm that the coaching staff has brought this year. She’s also noticed that the skill gap between older and younger players has shrunk.

“I feel like our technical ability this year has been a lot better than it has been in the past,” Rostov said. “The younger players have a lot more technical ability than the ones that have come before.”

The Falcons will participate in a jamboree hosted by Oak Harbor on Thursday before playing their first match at home against Coupeville on Sept. 10.