The Hawks have four straight wins to open the 2021 season, including a 9-1 defeat of Umatilla.
Most first-year programs seek to establish what kind of team they would like to become. Finding that identity and building from there — knowing that there won’t be a lot of early success — is the sacrifice a team makes, knowing it is building toward the future.
Horizon High’s girls soccer team isn’t a typical first-year program. The Hawks have started strong with four wins in the regular season, on top of a strong preseason.
Recently, they laid a large smackdown on Umatilla High School, winning 9-1. The team led 4-1 at halftime, but then took over in the second half with five more goals to make it the final score. Junior Kaia Pritchett scored a hat trick, with teammate Aida Bell adding two more goals.
Five days earlier, the team notched a 3-0 victory against Dr. Phillips, marking one of its first marquee wins in the program’s history.
With only 18 players on the team — small by most standards for a varsity girls soccer team at the high school level — the Hawks take their personality from head coach Thomas Brown: scrappy and competitive.
“I’ve been very fortunate that I chose 18 girls (who) are technically sound, willing to learn, enthusiastic and are committed to the program,” Brown said. “That makes my job much easier if they want to be there and want to learn. We worked hard in preseason, and now we are starting to see the fruits of our labor.”
Brown is a native of South London, England. While living in the U.K., he played semi-professional soccer — on the youth teams for Premier League clubs Chelsea and Crystal Palace as a teenager, along with Fulham F.C. However, he did not make the roster for either club.
“I got distracted and wasn’t as committed as I should have been,” Brown said. “So, I did the next best thing and went into coaching.”
He came in 2010 to the United States and started coaching. At first, it was just a hobby but eventually became serious as he made his way up the ranks coaching within the Florida Rush soccer club. He started coaching the U10 girls team and worked his way up to the U14 team. Two of his former players on the U10 team now play college soccer.
“It was a proud moment to see two girls who are now on the roster of a college soccer team,” Brown said.
Brown was also the head coach for the Windermere Prep boys middle school team. However, he said he prefers coaching girls.
“What I like about coaching girls is their attention to detail — they like to ask questions,” he said. “That’s what I thrive on. Rather than just me telling them what to do, there is a dialogue between them and me, which I really like.”
Before coming to Horizon, he was an assistant coach under Leon Flores at East Ridge High School. That was where he heard about the position for the new Horizon girls soccer team.
“He came to me and said that there’s a new high school coming in Horizon,” Brown said. “The next best thing you can do in high school soccer is be part of a brand-new school. You get the opportunity to build your own program. … It’s literally a clean slate you can put your mark on. That’s what drew me to the job.”
Furthermore, he and his family live in the downtown Winter Garden area, so the new position meant a shorter commute. As the team came together, Brown felt quietly confident his team was going to turn some heads in its first year.
He already is familiar with at least one of the players–Pritchett. He coached her while she played for the Rush’s U14 team, and now they have reunited at Horizon.
“She’s a quiet girl — keeps to herself — and technically sound,” Brown said. “I call her the ‘trash guy,’ because she picks up all the rebounds if a goalkeeper makes a save, or a defender makes a mistake, she’s there to take advantage of it. That’s where she’s gotten most of her goals, and that’s what I like the most. Anyone can score a top corner goal or one from outside the box, but I like the goals where players earn them.”
Brown also said he liked the way Pritchett is a team player — an attribute he wants to see in all his players.
“I never have individuals on the team,” Brown said.
Brown said the Hawks’ preseason game against New Smyrna Beach was somewhat of a revelation of the team he would have this year. Although the game ended in a 0-0 tie, it showed Brown his team was not afraid to step out onto the pitch with anyone.
“For a first-year program with no seniors … I was extremely happy,” Brown said. “I went, ‘We can move on from this.’ I told the girls that if you play the way you played tonight, you should fear no one. I believe in you, believe in yourself. Trust in the process, and good things will come.”
Horizon will take on Lake Buena Vista Dec. 7 at home.
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