Coach keeps on the move

Gabe Escobar demonstrates drills for his West Valley High School boys soccer team Wednesday on the practice field at Millwood Elementary. It’s Escobar’s first year as boys soccer head coach. An East Valley graduate, Escobar also coaches the East Valley girls soccer team. (Jesse Tinsley)
Gabe Escobar demonstrates drills for his West Valley High School boys soccer team Wednesday on the practice field at Millwood Elementary. It’s Escobar’s first year as boys soccer head coach. An East Valley graduate, Escobar also coaches the East Valley girls soccer team. (Jesse Tinsley)

Gabe Escobar leads teams for West Valley, East Valley

Gabe Escobar has a simplified color palette: Green is his fall color; orange is his spring color.

“I have a lot of green T-shirts and now I have a lot of orange shirts in my closet,” he says with a laugh. “My wife teases me about it and she rotates my shirts for me.”

Escobar is not trying to be fashion forward and there is a simple reason for his shirt selections.

An East Valley graduate, Escobar has coached the Knights’ girls soccer team the past five seasons. Hence the green, with white of course, in his wardrobe.

Last year he became head boys coach at West Valley and found the need for orange to go with basic black.

 “I guess it is a little strange,” Escobar said. “And I admit that when we played East Valley for the first time last spring I did get pretty nervous. But once the game starts, it’s just another game to me. I tell the girls all the time that whoever is out there with them is our rival and I’m that way with the boys. I just coach the game.”

Being on both sides of the long-held Valley rivalry does lead to a few questions and occasional jibe, he admitted.

“You know boys, they aren’t afraid to say something and give you a hard time,” Escobar said. “The other day one of my guys asked me if I was wearing green socks.

“I had to explain that, yes, I was wearing green socks, but they weren’t East Valley green socks. They were Seattle Sounders green socks.”

It is a unique situation, coaching both sides of a rivalry. But when you’re chasing a dream, you sometimes have to think outside the traditional box. Being a head high school boys soccer coach is something Escobar always has aspired to, but that dream hasn’t been readily available at his alma mater.

“I’m not a teacher and at East Valley there’s a teacher coaching boys soccer and teachers get priority in hiring,” Escobar said. “The athletics director at West Valley, Wayne McKnight, got in touch with me and asked me if I would be interesting in coaching the boys.”

Escobar said he’d waited for the job at EV to open and watched opportunities at University and Mead come open and get filled. This time, he said, he didn’t want to pass up the chance to coach boys soccer. And, he insists, he aims to make the situation work.

“I told Wayne when he hired me that I wasn’t taking the job as a one-year thing,” he said. “I intend to stay here. The one thing I can add to this program that it hasn’t had for the past few years is stability. It was the same with the EV girls when I took over that program. I was either the third coach in three years or the fourth coach in four years when I got there.”

In his first season at West Valley, Escobar’s Eagles were 5-10 overall, 4-8 in the Great Northern League. The team did make the post-season playoffs, while rival East Valley captured the 2A Regional crown and placed third in the state playoffs.

“I think we made a lot of good progress last year,” the coach said. “We won some games and were in a lot of games. It was a good learning year for me and I think we’re a lot farther along this year.”

This year the coach found an unconventional team bonding opportunity and took advantage of it.

“We practiced the first week in the gym like everyone else,” Escobar said. “By Friday I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I told the guys that practice was going to start at 9 a.m. Saturday and that they should bring their snow shovels and pack a lunch. We were going to shovel the field, have lunch, and then practice outside. I think the guys enjoyed it. They’ll certainly have stories to tell about how their crazy coach made them show up and shovel the soccer field that year.”

On the field, the coach likes what he sees, especially with a sophomore class that has played a good deal of club soccer together.

“I’m taking the program in a little bit of a different direction – more toward the style and system that I’m comfortable with,” he said. “I think that has us ahead of where we were this time last year because the guys know me and know what I expect.”

The Eagles opened the Great Northern League season Tuesday against Cheney, a team the WV seniors have never beaten in their high school careers. The Eagles took a 1-0 lead in the first five minutes, but Cheney took the lead on a pair of first-half penalty kicks and came away with a 5-1 victory.

“The one thing I know is that we are a better team after that game than we were before it,” Escobar said. “It’s not about one win. It’s about us playing our best soccer at the end of the season. On the bus ride home the guys were upset about the loss and already talking about what they wanted to do when we got back to the practice field.

“I have no doubt that we have the talent, I have no doubt that we have the skills, to play soccer at the highest level. We just have to keep working and moving forward to get there.”

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