Millennium High girls soccer

Coach David Cameron said he is treating each Millennium High team member “as a human being rather than just an athlete.”

A year after a heart-breaking 1-0 loss to Campo Verde in the 5A state title game, the Millennium High School girls soccer team hopes for another chance at the championship.

This team is unusually deep, said fifth-year head coach David Cameron.

“We have so much talent we don’t want talent sitting on the bench or playing in a position that’s uncomfortable to them,” Cameron said. “It’s interesting. I’m actually really enjoying the process of trying to figure this out.”

Cameron, also the head men’s soccer coach at Phoenix College, said the depth the Tigers team have mirrors the kind of depth college programs have. 

Millennium started the season 5-2-1. All five of their wins have been shutouts. They are returning last year’s leading goal-scorer in senior Anacel Valenzuela-Acosta, who already has a team-best five goals this year.

The other two top goal-scorers are junior Gabby Sangillo and sophomore Justyse Smith. 

Cameron credits the last two years of Millennium soccer – which saw the Tigers playing for their first state title in school history 11 months ago– to a revamped method of coaching.

The Tigers’ coaching staff traded in talks of winning for “individual development,” which allows Cameron to “pay attention to how they are doing in school, how’s their personal life.”

Cameron said he learned of the approach through the 2008 movie “Forever Strong,” a film depicting how legendary rugby coach Larry Gelwix won 20 USA national rugby championships.

Cameron introduced this method to his program. “It’s really player-led, we really want the players dictating it. We have them script it and we have them coaching, which is different from a year ago,” he said.

“We want the players to make decisions on the field. We’re instructing our players, if they feel like, ‘Hey, I’d rather play up front,’ they’ll make that switch on the fly. We want them making that adjustment and make it more player-led. That’s going to help our program tremendously.

“We’re trying to deal with them as a human being rather than just an athlete,” he said.

As the Tigers gear up for a fourth consecutive postseason appearance, they’re also preparing for the “sellout” game.

For the fourth year, the team is making an effort to sell out the Millennium stadium for one game. Cameron approaches local businesses to donate to the event, while also seeking school-wide support across campus.

Last season, the Tigers beat Verrado in front of an estimated 2,300 people.

This year’s game will be played at Millennium High School Feb. 7, against Willow Canyon. Willow Canyon informed Cameron it would bring three buses full of students to attend the game and drive up the attendance.

He’s hoping for “3,000-plus” this year.