When first-year soccer coach Nina Galindo gathered her players together at the half, the message was simple: no letting up.
The Lamar girls soccer team had a 9-0 advantage over Magnolia Heights after 40 minutes, and Galindo’s message was reminiscent of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s defense of their decision to continue scoring goals against Thailand in the World Cup earlier this summer. After receiving criticism for “running up the score” against Thailand in a 13-0 win, members of the USWNT argued it would be disrespectful to lower their level of play against an opponent on such a big stage.
It was a single coaching point, but Galindo said it’s part of the mindset she wants to bring to the team. After taking over as head coach of the Lamar girls in late May, Galindo had the Lady Raiders participate in Meridian’s high school summer league at Northeast Park, and one matchup pitted them against West Lauderdale, defending champions of MHSAA Class 4A.
“My girls were freaking out about it, because they haven’t played them (previously),” Galindo recalled. “I told them, ‘Look, if y’all want to be the best and claim y’all are the best, then we need to play the best and beat the best.’ We didn’t, but it was a great lesson to learn — and they didn’t hold back at all. The goals kept flooding in, and my girls were in tears and hurt, but lesson learned, right?”
Lamar was on the receiving end of a lopsided loss that game, but Galindo said she was glad her players got experience against the Lady Knights, and she never took offense to West Lauderdale continuing to score in the game despite a big lead. Tuesday, it was Lamar dishing out the goals in what ended up being an 11-0 Lady Raider win over Magnolia Heights. The same standard applies, Galindo said, whether or not Lamar is the one scoring in bunches or being scored on.
“That’s the ultimate respect from team to team and coach to coach, and I hope other coaches know that as well,” Galindo said. “I mean no disrespect in any way, but I don’t want to hold my girls accountable for anything less than what they’re worth.”
Junior Lydia Hutcherson said she likes that style of play and agrees with Galindo’s belief that going through the motions with a big lead isn’t respecting your opponent.
“We want to push them as much as we push ourselves,” Hutcherson said. “It would be more disrespectful to just pass it around and have them run around in circles.”
Lamar has a decorated recent history in girls soccer, having won three straight MAIS Class AAAA, Division II state championships from 2015-17 under then-head coach Leon Powell. After Powell departed following the 2018-19 school year, Galindo said the idea of coaching an established high school powerhouse appealed to her.
“When I heard (about Lamar’s success), I was both excited and nervous, because it’s big shoes to fill, but I also look at it as how can I make these girls better than what they were?” Galindo said. “There’s always room to grow. I want them to excel in any way possible.”
Galindo played college soccer at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas, and started coaching the school’s high school affiliate while playing. After graduating, she moved to Meridian with her husband, who is in the military. She started helping coach at Meridian Community College with soccer coach Mike Smith and also coached in the Meridian Youth Soccer Organization’s Alliance Futbol Club, leading the U9 and U18 girls teams. She has experience coaching and playing in semi-pro soccer as well. She found out about the Lamar opening and applied, saying she heard a lot of great things about the school and the players.
Junior Emma Grace Johnson was previously coached by Galindo in Alliance Futbol Club and said she was thankful to find out Galindo would be coaching the Lady Raiders after a positive experience in AFC.
“I like how she coaches,” Johnson said. “She not only pushes you physically but mentally as well, and that’s what you need to help for a strong team. And besides that, she is a great person and really cares for her players.”
While there was an adjustment period at first, Galindo said the players eventually bought into her coaching style.
“We eventually gained a respect for one another,” Galindo said. “We’ll see how things are midway (thought the season), but right now, it’s good.”
Hutcherson said the adjustment mostly had to do with Galindo learning her players’ strengths and having to earn playing time, whereas Powell likely would have already determined positions and playing time had he returned based on previous seasons.
“Leon was an amazing coach, and with Nina, it was just a fresh, new start,” Hutcherson explained. “We had to work from the bottom up and show ourselves every practice to earn our time on the field.”
Part of maintaining that coach-player respect, Galindo said, is serving as a role model in addition to teaching the game. Being a young coach makes that a bit easier, as she’s able to relate to the girls in part due to her youth.
“When the girls saw me, they thought I was 18, and I said, ‘They’re not going to hire an 18-year-old to coach,’” Galindo joked. “But it’s fun to relate to them and be that role model and someone to rely on. I needed that when I was in high school, so I’m blessed to be that for these girls.”
Johnson said she and the other players get along with Galindo, and vice versa, and having a younger coach has been good for the team’s coach-player dynamic.
“It helps us connect with her better, and she knows how to communicate with us effectively,” Johnson said.
Lamar’s roster doesn’t feature any seniors, and while it’s nice knowing she’ll have everyone back in 2020, Galindo said it also presents opportunities for the younger players to step up as leaders without assuming that would be a senior’s job.
“I told my younger players just because you’re not upperclassmen doesn’t mean you aren’t a leader or captain,” Galindo said. “This gives you the ability to step up to show character and leadership to everyone on the team regardless of what age you are.”
As a junior, Hutcherson said she and her 11th-grade teammates realize the importance of setting the leadership tone, since they’re the oldest players on the roster.
“(Galindo) told us that the younger girls will be looking up to us not just this year, but also next year,” Hutcherson said. “If we’re goofing off, we have to get ourselves together for the team to progress We have to help direct the team and each player, hold them accountable and hold ourselves accountable if we’re doing something wrong. She wants us to grow not just as players but as leaders and people.”