George Moya was eager for a new, unfamiliar challenge.
The Heritage boys soccer team wanted a coach willing to make a commitment to them.
Together, Moya, the recently-hired Heritage head coach, and the Timberwolves found a good match for each other as the team begins a new season with its third coach in three years.
Heritage announced Moya’s hiring in late January, just months after he oversaw the Hockinson girls soccer team’s run to the Class 2A state championship game. But unlike Hockinson, which had plenty of success before Moya arrived in early 2021, Heritage’s program was in a different place.
The previous head coach of Heritage’s boys and girls teams, Josh Mayer, left at the end of the 2021 fall girls season for a job opportunity that would’ve prevented him from returning until midway through the spring boys season, Heritage athletic director Jason Castro said.
At that point, Heritage decided the best course of action was to find new coaches for both programs, ending an 18-month stint for Mayer after he took over for Bryan Housley in the summer of 2020.
Moya still plans to coach the Hockinson girls team in the fall, noting Hockinson and Heritage have been supportive of his desire to stay involved with both teams.
When Moya finished interviewing for the position with Heritage in January, a group of Timberwolves players were also there, hoping to meet the prospective head coaches.
Much to Moya’s surprise, they approached him and peppered him with questions like what formation and tactics do you run? What’s your teaching style like?
Yet there was one question more pressing than the rest: Would a coach, like Moya, be committed to staying with the program for multiple years?
“Honestly, we wanted a coach to stay,” senior forward Quentin Urgilez said. “We wanted a coach that is committed, you know, that’s willing to stay for years and years.”
For players who were in the program over the last three years, they understood the challenges that come with having to adapt to a different style while trying to build a rapport with a coaching staff year after year. With the future of the program in mind, they wanted more stability.
“Things change, circumstances come up and they might have to leave and stuff like that,” senior defender Bryan Garcia-Acevedo said, “but we wanted a coach that wanted to stay here, that wanted to build something, who didn’t just come for the season, coach us and then leave once the season was over.”
Moya could tell a certain curiosity was sparked by his answers to their questions, as if they wanted to find out more. Their passion excited him.
“They were excited, I was excited, so that was a good sign,” said Moya, who’s coached soccer at various levels for 15 years.
“I had never been to an interview (where) right after you meet your potential students and players. That was neat.”
The timing of Moya’s hiring was similar to one year prior when he accepted the Hockinson girls job just a couple months before the abbreviated spring season began. At Heritage, he acknowledged coming in somewhat blind by having to learn new personnel and a new group of teams in the Class 3A Greater St. Helens League.
To the benefit of Moya and Heritage, the coaching staff also includes Allison King, the Timberwolves’ head girls soccer coach who was hired in December. In fact, King was the first person to reach out to Moya about the Heritage boys coaching job, suggesting the two programs collaborate and form a partnership of sorts.
“To me, that works out fantastic,” Castro said. “In the fact that we’re not burning out coaches, and yet, it is extremely important that there’s a connection between both programs.”
The boys team has only trained together for a couple weeks since spring began, but early returns are encouraging. Moya can sense the players’ excitement and willingness to buy in.
The players are beginning to build trust with and feel like they have support from the coaching staff. Some also notice a mindset shift in the group compared to last season, when the Timberwolves finished 5-6-1 in the 4A/3A GSHL.
One word that continues to come up? Attitude.
“I think something that will definitely bring our team up there is attitude,” Urgilez said. “If all the guys are on the same page, we can get up there. A couple guys might get on each other’s heads, but at the end of the day we love each other, we’re a family, and we’re going to work together to get up there.”
Added Garcia Acevedo: “This team has the attitude. They want to win. Unlike my previous years, they’re not scared of a big school. They’re not scared of Camas, they’re not scared of Union, these guys say, ‘We’re going to beat them.’ … Previous years, we had skill, a lot of skill, but not the mindset. The mindset was never there. Every time we went against a big school, we were all scared. We already declared that we were going to lose. But this year is different.”
Over the next few months, his focus is on the players at Heritage and the goal of bringing some much-needed stability to the program. For the seniors, Moya hopes they leave this spring feeling like it was their best season, while helping building toward something greater in the big picture of the program.
“The challenge is, can they trust in me?” Moya said. “So for me, the name of the game is, have faith and have trust that we’re trying to build a program. This is not a one-season type of thing. I am committed to trying to establish longevity here. But like any program, it all starts somewhere. We have to set a foundation. And what we do this season, know that it’s (about) the foundation. If we get anything more than a good, solid, core foundation, then that in itself is a success.”