AZTEC — The Aztec boys soccer team has endured a lot of change since last season, but Riley Barber has helped make every transition as smooth as possible.
As one of two team captains, Barber has been a leader for the Tigers in several ways. Not only does the senior midfielder lead the team with 19 points in only seven games, but he also did his part to ensure morale didn't drop when Aztec underwent a swift coaching change shortly before the 2016 season.
Stephen Scales stepped down as coach in mid-August for personal reasons, and former Lady Tigers coach Stephen Parks stepped into the role on short notice.
Barber has known his new coach for years — Parks coached Barber's older sister, Kassia, from 2011-2013 — so he did his part to help his teammates adjust to the change.
"Riley's a class act, no matter what the circumstances are," Parks said. "For the boys, I think it was probably a tough time. But fortunately, Riley — who other players already respect and want to be like and want to follow — helped that transition tremendously."
Barber, who is also the field goal kicker for the Aztec football team, wasn't happy about the coaching shakeup, but said he tried to spread optimism when Parks took over.
"I was pretty close with my old coach," Barber said. "I talked to him throughout the summer and everything, so him dropping off a week before the season started was kind of a slap in the face for some of us. But I knew (Parks) was a good guy, and I knew we had to just be open to new ideals and go from there."
The coach on the sidelines isn't the only thing different about the Tigers' soccer program this year.
Last season, Barber and recent Aztec graduate Bailey Watkins accounted for 111 of Aztec's 177 team points. This season, with Watkins gone, the scoring load hasn't completely fallen on Barber's shoulders like some expected.
Barber is second on the team in goals with six, behind only freshman Francisco Villegas and his eights scores. And there are already four players on the team with three goals or more.
According to Parks, Barber's unselfish style of play — he leads Aztec with seven assists — lends itself nicely to the type of balanced offense the coach likes to deploy.
That balance was there during last week's pair of lopsided wins over District 1-5A foes Kirtland Central and Bloomfield, which Aztec defeated by a combined score of 16-2.
Barber was in top form last week with 11 points in the two victories. But five different Tigers, including Barber, scored in the win over Bloomfield, and there were four different goal scorers against KC.
"What Riley does, and what he did last week, is he helps direct traffic," Parks said. "He's so soccer savvy and so smart that he just helps everyone around him get better."
Aztec's pair of wins last week were much needed. Before they beat KC on Sept. 20, the Tigers failed to pick up a win in six straight contests, going 0-5-1 during that stretch. Now with an overall record of 4-6-1, the Tigers look to make up some ground and put themselves in position to hunt down a district championship.
To do that, Parks said, Barber doesn't have to change a thing about the way he plays or the way he leads.
"He continues to come out here and get the guys warmed up when it's time to warm up. When it's time to focus and get serious, he gets them focused and serious," Parks said. "I don't have to worry about him because I know he's going to take care of business, no matter what the circumstances are."
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.
A closer look: Riley Barber
1. Favorite team?
2. Favorite athlete?
3. Favorite food?
4. Favorite show on Netflix?
5. Favorite subject in school?
6. Least favorite subject?
7. Biggest fear?
"That's a tough one. I guess heights."
8. Do you play any other sports?
"Football and track."
9. What is the first thing you would do with $1 million?
"I'd pay off my parents' house."
10. Do you have any pre-game rituals?
"Not really. Eat a good meal."