The Copper Canyon High School boys’ soccer team has undergone some major renovation under a new coach.
Copper Canyon has long been a team with a winning record, but struggled to translate its success into the postseason. Since a run to the Division 2 title game in 2014, the Aztecs boasted winning seasons every year, but have never reached past the second round of playoffs.
However, coach Brian Buttler, who joined the staff this offseason after over a decade of coaching in Germany, hopes to change some of those fortunes.
“There was some talent here, and I have always loved working with kids this age, so it fit for me to come here,” Buttler said.
The transition has not been easy, though. Buttler brings a level of discipline he believes the team did not have before, and it starts with having a more robust junior varsity program. During a practice early in the season, the varsity starters scrimmaged the junior varsity squad, which, though overmatched, held their own for nearly a full half of exhibition play. Buttler wants the varsity players to feel a little pressure to perform, knowing there are talented players in tow waiting to grab a spot.
He has also put an extra emphasis on his players maintaining high grades.
In speaking to school staff and team members past, Buttler gained the impression there were academic eligibility issues for several seasons and vowed to alter the trend. He kept his word, benching a few potential starters in a season-opening 1-0 loss to Sandra Day O’Connor due to ineligibility.
“It starts in the classroom, all successful programs do. I told them the first day and it’s not something I’m willing to budge on,” Buttler said.
The transition seems to be moving forward, though, even though both sides admitted a little tentativeness at first.
“It’s been tough, because he expects a lot from us, and every time you get a new coach it’s a change,” junior defender Carlos Uriarte said. “But, we respect it because we know school comes first and it’s what high school sports are about.”
On the field, Uriarte said the Aztecs will likely be a team that tries to tire out others with quality defense and quick passes to retain possession. With a lot of players who have grown-up together, and shared pitches for years, the communication is there to move the ball fluidly, but can always get better.
“It’s going to be a lot of counterattacking, so if we’re defending, and the other team turns the ball over or something, we can use that to attack and try to score goals ourselves,” Uriarte said.
The Aztecs bounced back from the opening loss to score four goals in the second half of a 5-1 victory over Mountain Ridge in their first home match.
Buttler said there are still challenges, including becoming more familiar with each player on the roster. But, if the challenges he has posted to his players are met with quality response, the team has the talent and ability to be great.
“It’s exciting because we’re still all getting to know each other more,” Buttler said. “And I think the more it happens, the better we can be.”