By Stayson Isobe, NAU Media Relations
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – It is no secret that the sport of soccer in Flagstaff is deeply intertwined. At the heart of Flagstaff soccer resides the Northern Arizona women's soccer program and over the last few months, a new chapter has been added with 2012 alums Jenna Samora and Natasha Slaughter lending their heart, hands (and feet) to local Flagstaff High School.
Without a head coach after its previous coach stepped down from the position, the Flagstaff High School varsity girl's soccer team was in desperate need. Samora was one of the players' favorites to take over the Eagle squad having coached many of the team's players as part of the Flagstaff Soccer Club. After a first moment of hesitancy, Samora eventually took on the head coaching duties the day before try-outs in the fall and the fit has been a perfect one for the Lumberjacks' all-time career leader in games played and fourth all-time leading goal scorer and point totaler.
"It's been an amazing experience," Samora said. "I'm so lucky to get this opportunity as a young coach to come and be the head coach of a high school team. It's been a fairly easy transition since I've coached so many of these girls in club, but it has been a bit of an adjustment with all of the tradition here."
The tradition that Samora speaks of is rich at Flagstaff High School. The recent run of success began in 2007 when Holly Jones, now an assistant coach at NAU where she still holds the school and Big Sky records for goals scored and points, led FHS to its first of back-to-back state championships. After a runner-up finish in 2010, the Eagles reached the pinnacle for a third time in five years, claiming the state title in 2011. For some help, Samora tapped into that history in the form of Slaughter, her teammate at NAU.
Slaughter, a native of Flagstaff, knows a thing or two about soccer at Flagstaff High School having served as the goalkeeper on the Eagles' first two championship teams in 2007 and 2008. As Samora's assistant coach on the varsity team and the head coach of the junior varsity team, Slaughter is right back to where it began for her – at her alma mater.
"It's been nice to come back here," Slaughter said. "To go from a player to a coach is a nice change of pace. It's different to see how things have changed, but there are some traditions that I still remember when I was a player here. I've really liked it so far."
Samora follows a long lineage of former Lumberjacks that have gone on to become high school coaches in town beginning with Jones, who led the girl's soccer program at FHS from 2001-08 and guided them to its first two titles. During her tenure, her assistants included former Lumberjacks Lisa Van Gorder and Kim Morrow. Another former NAU standout, Krista Earp, was the head coach at Sinagua High School.
For NAU head coach Andre Luciano, who coached all of the previous players with the exception of Earp, he's proud to see Samora and Slaughter continue the legacy set by those before them in the community.
"I'm really proud to have them work with the local high school," Luciano said. "It's a tradition that we've passed along since Holly took over at FHS and we hope to continue to give back to the community in any way possible whether they are teachers or coaches."
Even though Samora and Slaughter are both recent graduates and are coaching at the high school level for the first time, this is not their first go-around at sharing their knowledge of the game with the Flagstaff youth. Both got their start volunteering at the NAU soccer camps and later took on extensive roles in the Flagstaff Soccer Club. Currently, Slaughter serves as an assistant coach with the U11 girl's team and works with some of the U17 and U18 goalkeepers. In addition to her head coaching duties at FHS, Samora is also the head coach of the U18 team, which she took over for Luciano, and the U9 team as well as being an assistant with the U16 team.
"Jenna has a soccer purist mindset and she is extremely passionate about the game," Luciano said. "Her professional background is going to be teaching, so I thought it was a natural progression for Jenna to get into, and that's why I passed on my oldest Flagstaff Soccer Club team to her. I was surprised to hear about Natasha, but she developed a passion for coaching from the soccer camps and I'm glad she followed through with that. A lot of credit though has to go to Holly for getting them involved with the club."
With Samora and Slaughter at the helm, both of whom are quick to credit Luciano and Jones for teaching them the little things about coaching, the Flagstaff High girls entered the Division II state playoffs as the No. 2 seeded team following a 12-0 regular season in which they outscored their opponents by an 81-4 margin. The Eagles notched their 13th win on Tuesday, shutting out No. 15 Mohave, 10-0, and will next host No. 10 Notre Dame Prep on Saturday at 2 p.m. in their second step towards the quest for a fourth state championship in seven years.
"The season has gone really well, but I don't feel they've been pushed to their max," Samora said. "They've done a great job of taking care of those games and preparing for the state tournament with what they've been given. This is an amazing group of girls and they make this job easy. I hope to keep working with them for another three games (to the championship game)."
With that, the tradition at Flagstaff High School lives on and the story of soccer in Flagstaff continues.