NEWFANE — Parents lucky enough to attend Newfane High School's annual preseason boys soccer parents/coaches meeting weren't exactly sure what to make of new Panthers' head coach Maria Taylor.
At least that's how Taylor — the school's new physical education teacher who replaced the retiring Jean Passuite — said she felt inside. After all, not only was she replacing a beloved teacher, but she was also about to become Newfane's first-ever female coach of a boys' varsity sport.
“At the parents meeting, I think I got a lot of looks, like, ‘Okay, who is this girl? Does she know what she's doing?’ but I played in college and I played in high school and I've coached before, so I was definitely up for this challenge and it's been an awesome ride so far,” said the Elmira-native Taylor on Friday after her team improved to 4-1 in the Niagara-Orleans League with a 2-1 overtime win over visiting Wilson.
Most parents attending that preseason meeting were probably not even aware that the boys' coach was a woman, but Taylor quickly asserted herself as someone with the experience, knowledge and temperament to coach the Panthers.
“I was told I had talent, but I'd have my hands full, and so far, both have been true,” Taylor said.
Her advice to all those young girls and women out there who once thought coaching a boys team was off limits to women? Think again.
Be absolutely confident in your knowledge and your expertise and if you feel you have what it takes to be a great coach, just go for it,” she said. “The knowledge and expertise and background is all that matters.”
Newfane's first-year athletics director Danielle Hawkins is more than pleased at the district's historic hiring.
“We interviewed a lot of applicants for that opening and Maria stood out because of her experience and she does have a strong vision of where she wants to go and how she wants to integrate with the community and that's what we were looking for,” Hawkins said.
“I honestly was a little nervous before the season because we didn't know how the boys would react when they had their first practice, but there's been nothing but love and respect for her since then.
“We've been hungry here for a ‘real’ soccer person who played game at high level for a long time and now we've got her. We've got a great group of guys on the team who've been playing together a long time. They're really starting to gel under her leadership,” Hawkins said.
A graduate of Iroquois, Taylor is a graduate of the University of Charleston in West Virginia, where she played Division 2 women's soccer and softball.
“I'm very proud at how the boys and the parents and the Newfane community has responded to me. It's been awesome,” coach Taylor added.
Newfane returns to N-O boys soccer action at 4:30 p.m. Monday with a game at winless Akron.
Follow veteran US&J sports reporter and editor John D'Onofrio at @JohnD'Onofrio7.