FARMINGTON — For the first time in eight years this fall, someone other than Stephen Parks will be roaming the sidelines as head coach of the Aztec girls soccer team.
Kelly Kelso has been hired by Aztec athletic director Bryan Sanders to take over a team that went 17-4 last season and reached the 5A state semifinals.
"After we lost our game against (Albuquerque) Academy in the semifinals, coach Parks pulled me aside and said, 'You know, I think this was the last game I'll coach,'" Kelso said.
Prior to serving as an assistant to Parks last season, Kelso had never coached at the high school level. Still, he has been coaching soccer for 13 years.
"I started off volunteering to coach my daughters when they were 5 or 6 years old," he said. "After that, I decided I wanted to understand the game better, so I've done a lot of coaching clinics and earned a number of youth coaching licenses over the years."
Kelso, who said he never played organized soccer, spent time on the coaching staff of the Rio Rapids Soccer Club in Albuquerque before eventually making his way to Aztec in 2014.
"I've got three or four years of higher level coaching under my belt," Kelso said. "Before that, it was recreational."
Sanders admits that Kelso is not a "natural soccer guy," but said he thinks the switch from Parks to Kelso will make for a smooth transition.
"He has developed a real passion for the game," Sanders said. "He was dedicated in learning the game from the ground up. He's someone that fits real well, considering his experience with our program over the last year."
The Lady Tigers lost only 10 games in the past three seasons under Parks. Kelso said he's been learning from Parks for a few years now and thinks the team can continue to be successful on his watch.
"I've worked with (Parks) for three years prior to becoming an assistant during two-day camps and summer workouts and stuff," he said. "So we were pretty familiar with each other. We shared similar attitudes as far as the direction of the program goes."
One way Kelso does plan to differentiate his style from Parks is on the offensive end of the field. The first-time head coach said he wants his team to be more aggressive with the ball.
"I'd like for us to attack more on offense," he said. "Parks is a little bit more defensive oriented. We balanced each other out pretty well. It hurts to lose the speed and striking ability of Hailey Morris, but we have a lot of other players with different attributes to offer."
The Lady Tigers will be younger than they were last season after graduating nine seniors, including standout talents Morris and Emily McDonald.
This year's team — which will be led by five seniors — is already acclimating to its new coach, according to Kelso.
"I think the girls are doing a good job preparing for the season," he said. "A lot of our younger girls played a little varsity early last season, so they're young, but not necessarily inexperienced. For the most part, everybody's been real positive (about the change), and we're really looking forward to the season."