Mayra Vazquez looks through the tinted lenses of her aviator glasses at the crop of incoming freshmen girls lined up at the edge of the Woodburn High School varsity grass field in June.
The head coach of the junior varsity girls soccer team, Vazquez is the first introduction most of the new players have to Bulldog high school athletics. Of course many of these players are already familiar with Vazquez from the Woodburn Futbol Club, where she was recognized this spring as the Oregon Youth Soccer Association's 2019 Coach of the Year.
"Mayra is one of the best coaches I've worked with in my career," Woodburn High School assistant girls soccer coach Caitlin Brennan. "She is a master of her trade, whom everyone she shares a soccer field with has something to learn from. There is no one more deserving of this recognition than Mayra."
It's a sentiment that Bulldog head coach Andrea Whiteman, along with many who have coached with or played under Vazquez shares.
The trio — Vazquez, Whiteman and Brennan — have been leading the Woodburn high school girls soccer program for three years, and while Whiteman is the head of that triumvirate, the three coaches are more partners than anything else, each lending their talents to the betterment of the program.
"It creates program cohesiveness. I don't want them to ever feel because they're on JV, they're less than," Whiteman said. "I've seen a lot of programs over the years that really value their varsity team, and then their JV team is left on the backburner. I don't think that benefits the program whatsoever."
As Co-President and Co-Founder of Woodburn FC, along with serving as head coach of the club's GU15 Lightning team and long history of youth coaching, Vazquez's experience working with younger players make her the ideal coach to welcome new 14- and 15-year old freshmen into the fold as Woodburn High School soccer players.
"A lot of those freshmen girls have been on Mayra's club team," Whiteman said. "They know how she runs practices, and they're used to that."
If Whiteman and Brennan are the Bulldogs' sugar, then Vazquez is the team's spice, providing an unflinching welcome to the raised expectations that it takes to compete at the varsity high school level at Woodburn. Whiteman remembers the summer leading into her first fall season coaching Woodburn, where she was finishing her grad school classes and relying on Vazquez to coach the team in her absence. She would come back and hear from the athletes of just how hard Vasquez's practices were.
"She would just run them into the ground," Whiteman said. "This is the expectation. This is what you're going to do. The girls rise up to that, so it's very cool to see."
Those expectations hint at the care Vazquez has for her players, where she seeks to not just make them better athletes, but better people as well. Using soccer as the framework, Vazquez helps the players under her tutelage build confidence in their abilities both on and off the field.
"She motivates every single one of us to do our best not only in soccer but in our education, and just being a good person in general," one of her club players wrote when Vazquez was named Coach of the Year. "Outside of soccer she checks up on how we're doing, makes sure we're making good decisions at home and keeping good grades. Thanks to her many girls are now on a team playing soccer and staying out trouble."
As a teacher, she makes sure the athletes on her team aren't just running the correct plays, but know why they are doing so and breaks down individual mechanics and tactics with players. She serves as friend and surrogate parent to her players, giving rides to players, paying out of her own pocket for expenses and helping to make sure every girl who wants to play soccer has the ability to do so.
"She brings our confidence up and ensures we all feel welcome and comfortable," another player wrote. "She is kind not just to her players and their parents…she is kind to the refs and the other team's coaches, players, and their parents."
"Mayra has shown extreme dedication to Woodburn soccer both at the high school level and in her club teams," Whiteman said. "She comes to every practice and game ready to push the girls to their fullest potential. Although quiet, she demands presence on the field and has done the ultimate job in the last two years of preparing our JV girls for varsity. The growth I have seen in her players in a testament to the coach and person she is."
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