TURNER — Avalon Amador may have stopped playing the game of soccer competitively, but she couldn’t quit the sport entirely.
“I think I always knew that after my own turn in uniform was over I wouldn’t be able to just walk away from the game,” Amador said.
She didn’t walk away, she just crossed over the sideline to do her walking on the field.
Amador, a former standout at Mt. Blue High School and University of Maine at Farmington, started her coaching career as an assistant and JV coach at Skowhegan, but after two years under Mike Herrick she has taken over the reins of the girls’ program at Leavitt.
“My time as an assistant really helped me to hone in on the aspects of running a team, which has been helpful in my transition into the role of head coach,” Amador said.
“Selfishly I was disappointed to lose Coach Amador in our soccer program. That said, I was very excited for her to have the opportunity to become a varsity coach,” Herrick said. “When you have a good JV coach, you know that they probably want to take over their own program at some point. They are good coaches for a reason.
“I think one of the biggest assets that Avalon possesses is the fact that she recently played at a high level. It gives her instant credibility.”
Not only was Amador an all-state player at Mt. Blue and an all-conference selection for all four of her years at UMF, but she also spent a season playing for the Seacoast United Mariners of the Women’s Premier Soccer League while in college.
“I heard about the tryouts a few days before, and because I was always hoping to take my play one step further I decided to attend on a bit of a whim. I was fortunate enough to make the team and play with some very elite players from around Maine,” Amador said. “This was a beneficial experience for me and helped me grow as a player.”
Amador finished her UMF career with 27 goals and 20 assists. She credited her head coach, Molly Wilkie, for helping her “broaden my knowledge of the game,” and also showing her the importance of being supportive toward her players.
“Although she primarily played forward, she has a great understanding of the game on both sides of the ball,” Wilkie said. “She is ultra competitive, but also down to earth and empathetic to her teammates. She connects well with others and has a knack for explaining the game.”
Amador said her success as a player — and all the experience she gained from her playing days — was due in great part to all the coaches she was “lucky enough” to play for.
Another one of those coaches was Gary Walker, who Amador learned from during her time at the All Pro Sports Center in Waterville.
“I still consider Gary a coach today as I am continually learning from him not only about the game, but also about how to engage and challenge players to bring their best self,” Amador said. “I trained with Gary from age 13 through 18 and he was the first coach I had that truly helped me understand what the word resilience meant.”
Training sessions with Walker went beyond the soccer field, according to Amador, who was told to “come prepared for anything.” That meant anything from running through waist-high snow or diving into mud pits.
Amador has instilled that same work ethic into her new team.
“It’s different than we’re used to with (previous head coach Chris Cifelli),” senior Annika Mitchell said. “More intense, a lot of running, but I think it’s good and we needed it, a good boost for us.”
One of Amador’s new coaching colleagues also saw the fruits of the Hornets’ labor during an early-season game.
“I know they work hard. They didn’t quit, that’s for sure,” Lincoln Academy coach Donovan York said. “So I was impressed with the way the coach handled these girls.”
Mitchell said the team has bought into Amador’s coaching, which is something that Herrick also saw the previous two years.
“I feel like knowing how she went up that far, we trusted her a lot on what she knew more,” Mitchell said. “Like, normally when you get a new coach you’re always like iffy with it, but knowing her experience I think we all felt really good about it.”
Amador said her new players graciously accepted her new style and she already feels embraced within the program.
“Navigating the dynamics of a new team has been fairly smooth. The most difficult aspect initially was getting to know each one of our 40 players, individually and also within the team dichotomy in such a short period of time,” Amador said. “Our first few games I was still learning the ins and outs of our team. Had I known the girls the way I do now I may have made some different decisions. However, that is a part of the transitional process as a coach.”
Amador said her first season at Leavitt “has gone well.” The Hornets are 3-5-1, and have already equaled last year’s win total.
“The games we lost were well-fought battles where the score did not necessarily reflect the quality of game,” Amador said. “If we continue to play our hearts out, play smart, composed soccer, for the entire game duration, I believe we will only continue to build momentum.”