Last season’s winless campaign for Keller Fossil Ridge was a long way from how girls soccer coach Dorothy Ortiz left the program after her first run as head coach, and now she’s laying a new foundation.
Ortiz presided over the Lady Panthers’ last district championship in the 2011-2012 season before moving to the Houston area for two years, where coaching opportunities had opened for her husband. She was named assistant coach of the year for the 2013-2014 season by the Texas Association of Soccer Coaches and Officials while on staff at Conroe Oak Ridge.
Odds are, she hasn’t forgotten how to coach ‘em up.
Nevertheless, when coaching opportunities brought her back to Fossil Ridge before last season, Ortiz said the Lady Panther locker room had been raided by a simplification of transfer rules within the Keller Independent School District. While Ortiz was at Bay City High School and Conroe Oak Ridge, Fossil Ridge won a total of six games in two seasons.
Last season was even tougher in one of the state’s most competitive districts in the state, but Ortiz is using her first real offseason in her second run as head coach to bring the Lady Panthers back to the standards in place during her first run. In doing so, she’s gotten some help from one of the most notable coaches in the country on the college level.
She sent an email to North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance, the 20-time NCAA national championship coach with UNC who led the U.S. Women’s National Team to the first-ever Women’s World Cup championship in 1991, after Ridge’s winless 15-16 season inquiring about the Tar Heels’ offseason training program. She was surprised at Dorrance’s response.
“He opened up his whole 70-page training program to us,” Ortiz said. “It’s going to be incredibly valuable as we re-establish the expectations and build a new foundation for the program.”
Ortiz calls her team’s offseason training program a “cauldron,” a term usually entailing a large amount of tracking and personal accountability on the part of her players, during times of the year when coaches cannot be in direct coaching contact per UIL rules.
“We’re in a district where a lot of players are playing club soccer in (the offseason), and we don’t have as many of those athletes,” Ortiz said. “Coaches and players are going to have to go down this road together to build it back up. They’re going to have to be accountable and find a way to train on their own to level the playing field a little by the time the season starts.”
For Fossil Ridge next year, that starts with a big incoming senior class that includes the returning District 5-6A goalkeeper of the year, Audrey Pendergraft. Pendergraft has already received some interest from teams at the next level, including Ortiz’ alma mater, San Angelo State.
“Audrey is the type of kid that could play at a smaller Division I school, but at a place like Angelo State, which is already showing interest, she has a higher likelihood of starting right away, to play consistently as a freshman and excel.”
Ortiz knows something about excelling at Angelo State, an NCAA Division II school in the Lone Star Conference. She played there from 1998-2002, earning first-team Academic All-American honors and setting a handful of school records that still stand today, including career goals (50), career points (112) and goals in a season (22 in 1998). She was an All-Lone Star Conference selection three times while at Angelo State and has already established a Keller-to-San-Angelo connection from her previous run as Fossil Ridge’s coach.
Ashley Exford, who is entering her senior season at Angelo State after anchoring the Fossil Ridge defense during the Lady Panthers’ run to the District 7-5A championship in 2011-2012, followed Ortiz’ advice and in her cleatsteps at Angelo State, winning a first-team All-LSC selection in 2014 and an All-Region nod following the 2015 season when the Ramelles (14-4-1; 8-2 LSC) took the Lone Star Conference championship.
“It’s been so nice to see such a great kid become such an awesome young lady and have the success she’s had at the next level,” Ortiz said of Exford.
Now the task becomes replicating the success she helped foster in her first run at Fossil Ridge so that more of her players get those types of opportunities in the future. With her military background from time spent in the U.S. Marines Reserve Corp, the discipline and accountability she’s laying the ground work with shouldn’t be a problem.