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For the fifth time in as many years, Lafayette Athletic Director Dan Barner will have to seek out a new coach for the girls soccer program.
The search comes after the resignation of Kevin Nealer, who led the Rams to the 3A East Region semifinal and earned the distinction as the Conference 25 Coach of the Year.
“It’s awful,” Barner said. “More than for me, it’s awful for the kids. There’s no continuity.”
Nealer’s one-year stint at Lafayette was preceded by three others like it. In 2011, Shaheem Abrahams concluded a six-year run as Lafayette’s girls soccer coach and gave way to the Rams’ current coaching instability.
After Abrahams was Kelly Jenkins, who had every intention to continue coaching into her second year until a work-related time constraint forced her to resign from the position shortly before the 2013 season.
In her place was Emily Nealer, Kevin’s sister and an assistant coach to Jenkins in 2012. Emily Nealer’s one year with Lafayette was never intended to turn into a long-term gig, but she agreed to fill the position until a full-time head coach could be hired.
Shawn Trueblood, an assistant coach for Lafayette boys soccer Coach Brian Sorrell and Lafayette alumnus, took control of the girls soccer program in 2014.
With Trueblood, Barner thought the girls soccer team had a long-term coach in place. Like the others before him, however, Trueblood did not work for the school and was pulled away from his coaching duties by his other job after one season.
In a similar fashion to his sister, Kevin Nealer was an assistant coach for the girls soccer team during Trueblood’s year with Lafayette. With experience coaching the girls soccer team, a familiarity with the school as a player during his high school years and his connection to the school as a special ed teacher, Nealer was a shoe-in for the head coaching position.
Barner was once again convinced he had his man.
“I thought we had Kevin forever,” Barner said of Nealer, who led the Rams to a 12-3 record in 2015. “We had a great year last year and he did a great job.”
Unfortunately for Barner, Nealer headed to the West Coast for personal reasons, taking a teaching job just outside of Seattle.
Again, the Lafayette girls soccer team is left without a coach.
The repeated coaching turnover for Lafayette’s girls soccer team has become the new norm, but it is still a fairly recent phenomenon. Between 2000 and 2011, Lafayette had two girls soccer coaches — Abrahams and Brian Schwab before him.
During those years, Barner said Lafayette’s girls soccer team saw postseason success and was trending upward. The key, he said, was continuity.
“Kids come through the program and learn the system. When you have a new coach all the time, new kids don’t know the system but neither do the upperclassmen,” Barner said.
Barner lamented the difficulty in retaining coaches who don’t also work at Lafayette. Kevin Nealer worked for the school, but the others did not and cited their jobs as their reason for leaving.
When Barner took over at Lafayette in 1997, he had 19 of his coaches also teach at the school. Barner said today that number is down to about five. With coaches not stationed at the school, practices are more likely to start later and work conflicts are more frequent.
“You have to find somebody that’s a good coach and who has a balance about our culture with grades, discipline and how they dress,” Barner said. “And then they have to be able to get there. It’s getting harder and harder, almost impossible to find. When you find one, you’ve got a good one.”