With little soccer experience, Jets’ AD-turned-HC Josh Harris learning lessons, earning wins in 1st season

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SILER CITY — Josh Harris has been the head coach of the Jordan-Matthews women’s soccer team for a little over two weeks.

And he’s already got the best winning percentage in program history.

After a 9-0, walk-off clobbering of the North Moore Mustangs last Thursday, followed by another 9-0 domination of the Cummings Cavaliers on Monday, the Jets moved to 4-0 with Harris at the helm (4-2-2 overall), with all four victories coming within the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A conference.

Harris, the school’s athletic director, took over head coaching duties for the Jets after the resignation of fifth-year head coach, Chip Millard, who Harris said stepped down for “personal reasons” after the team’s first four games.

While a 4-0 start to your head coaching career isn’t necessarily a Hall-of-Fame-solidifying accomplishment, Harris’ lack of soccer coaching experience — or soccer experience, period — is what has other coaches at J-M, including men’s soccer head coach Paul Cuadros, cracking a smile.

“I told them, I was like, ‘Girls, I don’t know much about soccer. I’m going to give you the best I’ve got,’ but coaching is coaching,” said Harris, who has spent most of his athletic life on the baseball diamond, both playing and coaching. “We’ve got talented girls, they know what they’re doing, so I’m not worried about the strategy part as much as just keeping them centered, keeping them focused.”

Whatever Harris is doing, it’s surely working.

After a rocky start to the season, going 0-2-2 in the first couple of weeks, including a loss/tie split with the 3A Asheboro Blue Comets (2-2-2), a shut-out loss to the 3A Lee County Yellow Jackets (5-3) and a draw against the unbeaten Woods Charter Wolves (5-0-2), the Jets have taken off.

In three games under Harris, the Jets have posted three shut-out wins — one on March 14 against the Bartlett Yancey Buccaneers, 9-0, and the other two on Thursday against the Mustangs and Monday against the Cavaliers — and a dominant win over the Graham Red Devils, 11-2, on March 21.

J-M has outscored its opponents, all from the Mid-Carolina, 38-2 in its last four games.

But Harris has deflected credit from himself, instead opting to praise the leadership and determination of his team, most notably his team captains: junior Maricarmen Landa, sophomore Iris Sibrian Zetino, sophomore Janeyra Guerrero Jaimes and senior Emma Wieber.

“I talked to our captains first and just kind of put it in their hands a little bit and said, ‘Y’all are going to have to take control a little more, you’re going to have to really take on that leadership role,’” Harris said. “They’ve taken that on and they’ve just ran with it. So I’m just going to structure things and then get out of the way a lot of the time.”

Those captains were front and center in the Jets’ win over the Mustangs, with three of them — Landa (2 goals), Guerrero Jaimes (2 goals) and Sibrian Zetino (1 goal) — joining the scoring party as J-M’s offense was on fire for most of the night.

It took some time for the Jets to get on the board, however, as they had no shortage of shot opportunities, but simply couldn’t make them fall, including an early header off of a corner kick that smacked the crossbar and landed right into the hands of the Mustangs’ goalkeeper.

“We came out a little slow, reflective of practice on Wednesday,” Harris said. “But they found the energy and then they played a really consistent game.”

It took a little over 12 minutes of game time, around the 28-minute mark, for the Jets to put the ball into the net on a hard-hit shot by Landa from the left side of the penalty area to give J-M a 1-0 lead.

That’s when the floodgates swung open.

After a few scoreless minutes, Landa struck again in the 16th minute on a shot that saw her throw defenders — and the goalkeeper — off with a turnaround maneuver that allowed her to score from short range with ease.

It took a little over two minutes for the Jets to tack on another, with Guerrero Jaimes getting under a deep shot from at least 25 yards out and soaring it past the unsuspecting goalkeeper to the left portion of the net.

In just six minutes of game time, the Jets transformed a scoreless, defensive battle into a three-goal lead.

Guerrero Jaimes slotted another to the right side of the net off of a short pass from Jessica Parroquin Vallejo in the 24th minute to give J-M a 4-0 advantage, followed by a goal from Parroquin Vallejo on a beautiful assist from Landa in the 35th minute to give her team a 5-0 lead at the break.

“You take the lid off of the jar and a lot’s going to happen,” said Harris with a smile. “I think it loosens them up, too, because a lot of times, the first time you play a team, you don’t know what to expect out of them. I think that was part of it, you’ve just got to figure out what they’ve got and what’s working for us and go from there.”

Despite the frequent abuse experienced by both the crossbar and the goalposts by the Jets’ strikers, who clanked near-goals off of them often, J-M’s offense was beginning to click, which left them with the task of defending their massive lead with 40 minutes left to play.

But in a night that was smooth-sailing for Jets goalkeeper Jeylin Perla, the Mustangs had no answer for the constant pressure put onto them by J-M’s midfielders and defenders, who allowed just a handful of shots all night.

“We’ve been focusing on pressure, just applying pressure to the other team, mainly,” said Harris. “We’ve got a pretty skilled group, so they do a good job of it, but that’s been our focus the last few games, just, ‘Hey, let’s put pressure on them, don’t make it easy, disrupt them and control the game.’ And they do a good job with it.

“When you play well defensively, your goalie gets an easy night,” he added.

The Jets held the Mustangs to 70 minutes of scoreless soccer, a feat only made possible by the hard-fought defensive efforts of players like midfielder Jennifer Garcia Torres, who Harris shouted out by name after the win.

“(She) doesn’t get a lot of the limelight,” said Harris. “She plays the middle for us and she’s kind of a quiet person in general, but she’s steady out there. She knows she’s always in the right spot and she controls the ball really well. I’d probably (shout out) all of our midfielders in general. They do a great job controlling the game.”

In the second half, the Jets got goals from Parroquin Vallejo — one on a deep shot in the 58th minute and another off of a penalty kick in the 62nd minute — and Sibrian Zetino (63rd minute) to force the Mustangs into an 8-0 hole with nearly 20 minutes left to play.

But Parroquin Vallejo, who totaled four goals on the night, clearly wanted to go home early.

In the 71st minute, she took control of the ball toward the right sideline, just outside of the penalty area, sped past the defender in front of her, split between two Mustangs and fired a shot past the goalkeeper’s extended arm to the right-center of the net, giving the Jets a 9-0 lead and ending the game via mercy rule with 9:25 sitting on the clock.

Now, the Jets are 4-2-2 on the season as they continue to storm through the Mid-Carolina.

“They had some really tough competition (at first), but they’ve gotten a little confidence in them now,” Harris said. “You can see the little bit of an energy change with them. They’re a little loose. They’re having fun.”

Harris is used to the late nights at J-M when the school hosts soccer games, but playing a role in them is a whole different story. And, despite his love for baseball and softball, he appears to be enjoying his time on the pitch.

“I told Coach Cuadros after the first game, like, ‘Man, it looks a lot different from the field compared to the press box,’” said Harris with a laugh. “I don’t have much experience with soccer at all, so it’s a new task, but it’s a good challenge. It’s fun. … It forces you to learn stuff a little more than you would when you watch it because you’ve got to look at it a different way.”

Jordan-Matthews has a Mid-Carolina conference clash with Seaforth (5-1) on Wednesday before heading to Southwestern Randolph (5-2-1) on Thursday as Harris looks to bolster his first-year coaching resume.

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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