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Rick Houston | | December 3, 2014

First-year coach Padgett leads Colorado Mesa

LOUISVILLE -- This isn’t exactly the career path Colorado Mesa head coach Todd Padgett once had laid out for himself.

A European history major at Fort Lewis, he figured he would wind up teaching in high school and coaching soccer on the side. He’s coaching soccer all right, but not in high school and it’s most definitely not just another part-time gig. In his very first year with the Mavericks, Padgett has Colorado Mesa in the semifinals for the first time in school history.

Thing is, he might someday actually teach and coach at the high school level. But not now, not after coming so far so quickly.

“I think it’d be a great job to find myself back in high school and coach a little soccer, teaching a subject that I love,” Padgett said. “But it turned out, I got my foot in the door with college coaching up at Fort Lewis with Damian Clarke.

“Fortunately for me, it’s progressed in a way that I don’t necessarily know that I would have envisioned, but in a way that I’m certainly grateful for.”

Before moving to Colorado Mesa, Padgett served for three years as head coach for the women’s soccer program at Eastern New Mexico. He experienced a similar pattern of success right out of the box with the Zias, taking them from a last-place finish to third in the Lone Star Conference.

The Mavericks weren’t last in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference last season -- the squad won the season-ending conference tournament -- so Padgett had something to work with when he was named Colorado Mesa’s new head coach in late February.

He made changes, and they were fairly major ones. Rather than going with the 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 formation the school had been using, Padgett elected to go with a 4-4-2 scheme. It was a totally different brand of soccer, according to the Mavericks’ new head coach.

“Fortunately, I got a couple of months to instill this system and philosophy with the returning players over the spring time,” Padgett said. “That, of course, made the transition for those players coming and joining the program much easier once we all got back at it.”

At first, the new formation was somewhat of a tough sell with the team’s returning players. Yet once they bought into it, they bought into it in a big way.

Winning has a way of doing that.

“It’s always tough when a new coach comes in, especially with a team that had success,” Padgett continued. “I think the way we were able to find success as a staff was really just by creating trust. We all know that wins help that trust factor between staff and players. That was obviously a blessing, no doubt about it.

“It was a hungry, motivated group. It took a few weeks, but I think once they saw ultimately what we were trying to do and how we were asking them to play, it’s a very exciting brand of soccer and a fun system and philosophy to be a part of. I think once they saw the fruits of their labor pay off early this fall, that certainly helped us tremendously.”

— Todd Padgett
Padgett’s course of action coming into the season was fairly simple. He wanted the Mavericks to find a way to wind up on top of the RMAC heap at the end of the regular season, and then take the NCAA regional championship. That’s exactly what they were able to accomplish.

Although Colorado Mesa was bested in the conference tournament, there had been enough gas left in the tank to be gain a berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. The Mavericks made it into the semis with a 1-0 victory against Cal State Los Angeles.

Junior Charlie Dukes scored the winning goal with a little more than two minutes remaining in the game.

“It was a team that found its success later in the year in 2013,” Padgett said. “Really, what I wanted to do was do whatever I could to build upon that. We had a pretty detailed blueprint on what we wanted to do as a staff, and the first goal that we set was that we would become RMAC regular-season champions.

“We knew that if we won the RMAC regular season outright, then we’d have a good chance to get into the NCAA tournament. Honestly, as strong as the RMAC is, if you can get into the NCAA tournament from this region, you’re going to be competitive. If you’re competitive, you obviously have a good chance to win games.”

The bottom line for Padgett is this: The Mavericks belong here, and they’re wholly capable of a couple more victories. Colorado Mesa faces off December 4 against Charleston (W.Va.) at 11 a.m.

“As we all know, if you get into that national tournament, anything can happen,” Padgett concluded. “We’ve trying to stress that to the guys, that we belong, that we deserve to be there. Let’s just go and play.”