March 3, 2004

Women's Soccer Alumni Update

March 3, 2004

By Ben Saxe
Special to the San Diego Union-Tribune

There were, of course, the expected skeptics on La Jolla High's boys soccer team when the players first learned their new coach was a woman.

But not for long.

"At first I was like 'Are you serious? This has got to be a joke, right?'" freshman center midfielder Andres Liera said. "But she has a good knowledge of the game and we learned a lot from her... but she learned a lot from us, too."

Mandy Clemens, whose season as the Vikings (11-7-3) head coach ended Saturday with a tough 1-0 loss to University City in the Div. III quarterfinals, may have been inexperienced as a coach, but her lengthy player credentials are immaculate.

She was a three-time West Coast Conference Player of the Year at Santa Clara, set the school record for career goals (67) and assists (65), was the Division I Player of the Year and won both the Hermann Trophy (college women's soccer's Heisman Trophy) and was the Missouri Athletic Club Player of the Year in 1999.

She played in four Final Fours, holds the WCC career record for assists and is second in conference history in goals. She led USDHS (where she still owns the school record for career goals with 89) to four straight Division III section championships, has had brief stints on the U.S. National Team and played professionally in the Women's United Soccer Association for three years.

She knows what she's talking about. How many high school soccer players can say their coach's agent is fine-tuning a contract with a team in China's Premier League?

"I know that I had information that would be effective, male or female," said Clemens, 25. "Soccer-wise, that it was a boys team didn't really matter."

After learning about her experience, the players quickly realized this was no ordinary coach.

"We were surprised, but when we heard what she had done, we felt more privileged than surprised," senior sweeper Eric Jordan said. "We respected her because of her experience, and it didn't matter that she was a girl."

Clemens was a hostess at a sushi restaurant in October when a friend told her that La Jolla needed a coach. This being the first year in 20 she was not involved with a soccer team in some way, Clemens took the bait.

"The opportunity just presented itself," Clemens said. "The fact it was boys made it more interesting."

Her level of play and the coaching she has been exposed to obviously helped her in communicating a sophisticated level of play, but it also served as a barrier in some ways because not all of the team would understand her advanced terminology.

And if need be, Coach Clemens had no problem proving her point through demonstration.

Said Liera: "Oh, she's got skills. She's good."

Lessons were learned, points were made.

"It was really fun. There were times when they were really receptive to what I was saying, and that feels really good," Clemens said.

The relationship with the team successfully endured Clemens' brief departure to tape the upcoming season of ABC's "The Bachelor," which is to air April 7.

In order to accommodate the program's taping, Clemens--a participant on the show--would have to miss up to month of the season, contingent on her advancement.

Clemens let her players determine whether she would participate.

"She came to us and told us about the opportunity. She left it up to us to decide as a team," said Jordan.

"We said that it's not something you can really say 'no' to. It isn't the type of thing that comes up every couple of days. It was obvious that we all supported her; there was no dissension."

Clemens resumed her duties as head coach upon her return.

"She commands a lot of respect on her own, but I think of it as a big credit to our guys to handle it well and really accept her," said assistant coach Stephen Jeffery, who took over as head coach while Clemens was gone. "I give a lot of credit to the team for handling it the way they did."

Clemens said she found herself emulating the coaches she had, and discovered the perspective that comes with being on the other side of any relationship.

"I looked at (practices) through my coaches' eyes, and even though I would find myself saying something 15 times, sometimes they (the players) still wouldn't get it," Clemens said. "But then I would just laugh to myself because that's how I was."

Clemens received her psychology degree from Santa Clara and is considering graduate school to pursue school counseling. In the meantime, she is training for Chinese Premier League play, a two-month commitment that pits the best teams in the country.

"If I am in San Diego next year, I would like to coach again," Clemens said. "I really enjoyed it."

Ben Saxe is a Union-Tribune news assistant.