No matter the sport, the single element that translates most directly to long-term success at the high school level is coaching. Certainly, the best of the best are those with longevity at their institutions coupled with superior knowledge of a sport’s physical, mental and tactical requirements. That may be the easy part. In today’s world, they must also possess the increasingly rare ability to connect with young student-athletes and develop them as players, competitors and human beings while integrating them into a fully-functioning team. Add to that the flexibility to adapt to both an ever-changing roster and the constantly evolving mindsets of the newer generations of young people playing their games. A demanding set of necessities meant for special people.
In the sport of boys’ soccer, there are many outstanding prep coaches in San Diego County but one would be hard-pressed to find a greater collection of quality than that existing in the 2.7 miles from Torrey Pines High School to Canyon Crest Academy in Carmel Valley. With those two public schools and private Cathedral Catholic tucked in approximately halfway between, local fans and players are the beneficiaries of what could be aptly described as a “wealth of riches” when it comes to coaching excellence.
It’s actually unlikely that there are a trio of boys’ high school soccer coaches the caliber of Torrey Pines’ Andy Hargreaves, Cathedral Catholic’s Nate Hetherington and Canyon Crest’s Tom Lockhart in a 2.7-mile stretch anywhere in the country.
Combined, the threesome have 53 years of high school head coaching experience, been at their current positions a total of 43 years and across the six-plus seasons since Hetherington moved into his role at Cathedral in 2014, have compiled a collective win-loss record of 284-128-94 (.655). Their achievements include seven CIF Championships (six at the highest division), and one State title. The league crowns, individual player awards and number of athletes who have gone on to play at the collegiate level are too numerous to mention.
This season, Cathedral Catholic is ranked No. 1 in San Diego and Torrey Pines is No. 2. Those positions were reversed earlier in the year but a 2-0 home loss to Canyon Crest dropped the Falcons out of the top spot and helped catapult the Ravens back into the top 10, currently at No. 8. Cathedral leads the rugged Western League while Canyon Crest and Torrey Pines sit 1-2 in the equally tough Avocado West League.
For the last two years, all three teams earned berths in the prestigious, eight-team CIF Open Division Championship bracket and Torrey Pines, victorious in 2019, is the defending section titleholder.
Their schools all have a distinct character. As mentioned, Cathedral Catholic is private while Torrey Pines and Canyon Crest are public. Canyon Crest and Torrey Pines both have enrollments in the 2,500 range, nearly 1,000 more than Cathedral. All three are first-rate academic institutions with Canyon Crest listed as the No. 2 school in San Diego by the 2019 U.S. News & World Report rankings. Torrey Pines and Cathedral Catholic are generally considered the two best overall athletic programs in the county while the younger CCA is an up-and-comer. Balance is a word referred to often on all three campuses.
The three coaches have disparate playing histories with Hetherington having enjoyed an eight-year professional career, mostly with local teams like the USL-level San Diego Flash. Lockhart, on the other hand, even stopped playing soccer for a period before coaching brought him back. Hargreaves built his coaching resume while simultaneously working in the business world and starting a family.
Although their paths in the coaching profession have been different, each has extensive club coaching experience locally and, in fact, all coached concurrently for the Rancho Santa Fe Attack program between 2008 and 2010. Hargreaves and Lockhart teamed up with the boys’ U14 teams while Hetherington was serving as the director of the girls’ program. The rapport developed during that time helped create the healthy relationship that has made the inter-school rivalry even more unique.
Along the way, as a group and individually, they’ve gained the respect of their peers. “All three of them are knowledgeable and always get their teams to play for them,” said La Costa Canyon Head Coach Craig Dean, whose squad regularly squares off against the three coaches and earlier in his career replaced Lockhart as the boys’ head coach at San Dieguito when he moved over to CCA. “Their teams are usually very talented but even when the talent level is somewhat low, they are still competitive at a high level.
“Nate is always very good with his players,” Dean continued. “That may be because he was a heckuva player himself—that kind of thing can go a long way in terms of credibility.
“Tom is a motivator. Some of his teams in the past, in my opinion, were not as talented as some of the teams they defeated but they would run through walls and play with the kind of serious passion that’s created by a good atmosphere.
“Andy has a wealth of experience and may be the most tactically sound coach I go up against—he always sees the big picture and that’s hard not to respect.”
Here’s a quick look at the particulars of this remarkable coaching lineup followed by their thoughts on a variety of soccer and coaching-related topics.
Head Coach Torrey Pines High School
Hometown (Current Residence): Blackburn, England (Encinitas)
College (Major): Point Loma (Business)
Family: Wife, Charlotte; sons Connor (24), Aidan (19) & Felix (9)
Years as Head Coach at Torrey Pines: 22
No. of CIF Championships: 4
Other Current Occupation: Coaching Director/Encinitas Express Soccer Club
Favorite Professional Soccer Team: Blackburn Rovers
Head Coach Cathedral Catholic
Hometown (Current Residence): Encinitas / Encinitas
College (Major): UC San Diego / Psychology
Family: Wife, Cherine; daughters Riley (18) & Lucy (12)
Years as Head Coach at Cathedral Catholic: 7
Record as Head Coach at Cathedral Catholic: 75-40-31
No. of CIF Championships: 2
Other Current Occupation: Assistant Director at Rancho Santa Fe Attack Soccer Club & US Soccer scout
Favorite Professional Soccer Team: Manchester United
Canyon Crest Academy
Hometown (Current Residence): San Diego (La Mesa)
College (Major): San Diego State (Political Science)
Family: Wife, Carla; son, Thomas (15)
Years as Head Coach at Canyon Crest: 14
Record as Head Coach at Canyon Crest: 158-115-57
No. of CIF Championships: 1
Other Current Occupation: Teacher at Canyon Crest
Favorite Professional Soccer Team: Manchester United
With the end of this year’s high school league season rapidly approaching, as well as 2020 CIF Championship, each of the three coaches took the time to answer several questions on their careers, their sport and each other.
Q—Why and how did you get into coaching?
HARGREAVES—As a young player in England, I had a couple of experiences with coaches who were not good people. In those instances, I felt I was under-valued and subsequently missed out on opportunities but from that point, I was always interested in coaching and actually knew I wanted to go to the U.S. to do it. I got a chance to come here and play and then was fortunate to get my first job—running camps and clinics for John Napier, a former player at Bolton in the UK. That led to my early coaching breaks.
HETHERINGTON—Really, it’s been a passion of mine from a young age. I invested so much in the game because I love it so much. My outlook on life is that you need to do something you love and enjoy. I’ve accumulated so much soccer knowledge, it just seemed natural to want to share it. Growing up locally, playing college and professional soccer here as well, I became fairly well-known in the soccer community and was able to get my first coaching job as Director of the Cardiff Mustangs Club while I was still playing.
LOCKHART—I started out coaching basketball at a local gym in Allied Gardens near my home when I was only 19. There was a coach, Dennis Conyer, who coached virtually everything in Allied Gardens and anyone who played sports there knew who he was. He was a coach who gave back to kids in the community and that was an inspiration for me. Teaching is a way of giving back and at its core, coaching is really teaching. For me, it’s rewarding to teach kids and see them apply what they’ve learned in games. My sister, Andrea, was a scholarship soccer player at George Mason. When she came back to San Diego, one of the great coaches in the area, Butch Lee, gave her a job coaching the JV girls at University High School (now Cathedral). She took me on as an assistant and it’s all grown from there.
Q—Who would you consider your coaching mentors?
HARGREAVES—As I mentioned, Napier was probably my first mentor but Brian McManus, Derek Armstrong and Mike Nicholson over at the Nomads club were very significant as I built my coaching expertise. I got a lot from those guys right away. Brian took me with him when he became the girls’ coach at Torrey Pines and he had a big impact on me. Also, Jerzy Szyndlar over at Mesa College—I played there and he got me into coaching.
HETHERINGTON—Derek Armstrong, who was my college coach at UC San Diego, and Brian McManus, the longtime women’s coach at UCSD, were big influences. I’ve also had five different professional coaches in eight years and they were from all over the world with different styles and philosophies. I’ve ultimately taken from all of them and developed my own style.
LOCKHART—I have learned from so many coaches, including Andy and Nate. Malcolm Tovey, the Director of Coaching at Rancho Santa Fe Attack, had a massive impact. He is an incredible game manager who knows how to get the best out of his players. Juli Veee always supported me with advice early in my coaching career. I learned a lot from my sister who, among other things, helped restore my passion for the game. Another person who influenced me is former San Diego State women’s basketball coach Beth Burns. My senior year, I was part of a group of guys who practiced against her team and I was impressed by how organized her practices were—she was demanding, intense and never wasted a minute. To this day I always have my practices mapped out.
Q—How would you capsulize your goals as a high school soccer coach?
HARGREAVES—My coaching philosophy with the high school team is one where the program comes first. The caliber and mix of players can change dramatically from year-to-year so I try to be flexible and open-minded each season. We’re always trying to be among the best teams in San Diego while using the largest amount of the roster as possible. We want to have success but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the players’ experience, as that’s what high school sports represent.
HETHERINGTON—I want our team to represent the school in a positive way, create a culture of respect and responsibility and help these young men carry those characteristics to college. It’s more about the team than anything else. When you’re all in something together and representing your school, it’s a very powerful thing. I want our players to come out of our program with tools that will assist them in being successful on and off the field of play.
LOCKHART—Obviously, developing good players is important but putting them on the right path as they transition from boys to men is just as significant. We emphasize the student-athlete, not the other way around, and stress accountability. There are so many lessons to be learned being part of a team like this and hopefully they will be able to use what they learn here long beyond high school. It’s always cool at alumni games to see how successful these kids are in life and all of the great things they are doing.
Q—What do you hope your players would say about you after they graduate?
HARGREAVES—I would hope they enjoyed playing for me and enjoyed the experience. Whatever the level of player they were that they got what they expected from their high school experience and I gave them an opportunity. I always work at having a good relationship with all of my players.
HETHERINGTON—I hope they would say I was a “players’ coach” and gave them insight into the details of the game. I would also want them to feel that the program made them a better person and everything I’ve done is for them—I want to win a CIF Championship for them.
LOCKHART—That they respect me as a teacher, as a coach and as a man—and that I made a positive difference in their lives.
Q—What are three words you would use to describe your two local coaching rivals?
HARGREAVES—For Tom, I would say “proud, respectful and ethical” and for Nate it would be “competitive, creative and tactical.”
HETHERINGTON—With Tom, it would be “hard-working, passionate and fair” and with Andy it would be “knowledgeable, successful and adaptable.”
LOCKHART—I would call Nate “intelligent, kind and a developer (of players)” and Andy “intelligent, competitive and classy.”
Q—If you had to go up against the other two coaches in an athletic competition other than soccer, where would you feel the most confident?
HARGREAVES—Maybe pool or wrestling. I’m not bad at pool. With wrestling, I’m a little bigger than Nate and I think I’d have a chance against Tom.
HETHERINGTON—Anything that has to do with the ocean, probably surfing—I started that before even soccer.
LOCKHART—There are so many (lol). Golf for sure, basketball and probably tennis. I spent years in the gym and I have the height advantage in basketball.
Q—On a Sunday afternoon when you’re not coaching or otherwise working, what would you likely be doing?
HARGREAVES—Selfishly, I like to get out and have a good round of golf, but that doesn’t happen that often. Ideally, I like hanging out with my boys.
HETHERINGTON—Generally watching a soccer game, surfing or otherwise enjoying the water. It’s also a time for doing family things like going to Michael’s to buy crafting supplies for my youngest daughter—she’s very creative.
LOCKHART—Usually watching my son play water polo for Grossmont High School. That’s probably the most fun thing I do, spending time to see him excelling at sports.
Q—What do you like most about your current coaching position?
HARGREAVES—I like the competitiveness—the athletic program and the kids strive to be good and there’s a decent amount of legacy behind it. The environment is outstanding, the boys’ and girls’ coaches are awesome people, we’ve got a good athletic director and a good culture. You feel comfortable and supported. There’s also a great balance—academics are a priority but athletics is a big part of it.
HETHERINGTON—The facilities, the professionalism of the training staff and the support from the administration are all first rate. The players, and the students in general for that matter, are really respectful—they’re expected to be good people. It’s cool to see them doing the right thing.
LOCKHART—I have players that are students of the game and work really hard in all aspects of life—in the classroom, on the field and with their hobbies. They’re just really good kids. The team always comes before individuals and they’re pretty committed.
Q—What is something the average person would be surprised to learn about being a high school soccer coach?
HARGREAVES—How much they get paid per hour when you break it down. At Torrey Pines, I think people would be surprised at how much we encounter the real-life problems kids have. The common belief is that everyone here is rich but it’s not like that. Kids need advice, a lot more than you see on the surface. They come from different home and soccer environments and can have very different expectations. Every year there are unique challenges.
HETHERINGTON—From a game standpoint that the majority of goals are scored from set pieces. From a personal perspective, how much more emotion is involved in high school, than say, club soccer games. We only have the players for a short period but they are with their classmates day-in and day-out—they represent a lot of people when they put on the Cathedral uniform.
LOCKHART—I think most people would be surprised at how much time we put in. I’m generally the first car in the lot in the morning and the last to leave. It’s not just the season and the games. There are things like developing a schedule and lining up referees for three teams (varsity, JV and freshman), reserving buses, handling equipment purchase and distribution. That and more all happen before you ever hit the field.