Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — There aren’t many chances to play for a veteran, proven successful varsity coach at the junior high level. But that’s the situation that Unioto’s middle school girls soccer players find themselves in this fall.
After 10 years at Liberty-Benton High School, Mark Pagano will be coaching the Shermans’ sixth, seventh and eighth graders this fall.
And, if you don’t know, Pagano’s resume speaks for itself.
Pagano played soccer at both Centerville High School and Denison University. He then started his coaching career by taking over a travel team in the Findlay area. Then, he was recommended for the job at Liberty-Benton and an abundance of success followed.
He amassed an overall coaching record of 155-32-16 in 10 years while leading the Eagles to seven district titles, three regional championships and a state final appearance.
“It was a very successful tenure. If you go by wins, district championships or even regional championships, we did very well,” Pagano said of his time at Liberty-Benton. “I learned a lot, it was a great group of girls and parents, and I really enjoyed it. But my wife and I made a decision in, probably, 2017 … we started talking about our favorite thing, which is our grandkids. We started praying about moving closer to them.”
By that time, Pagano had retired from a position at Marathon Oil, but he still felt a commitment to the then-freshman class at Liberty-Benton.
“We wanted to get them through their senior year before trying to transition and move towards our children,” Pagano said. “The kids and grandkids live in West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana. My wife got the maps out and we charted it all. Chillicothe, Ohio was right in the middle.”
And destiny called.
Last fall, after leading Liberty-Benton to a 17-3-2 mark and a state semifinal appearance, Pagano stepped down from his position and moved to a town he’d never been in.
But even after moving away from home, soccer was still calling his name. That’s when he got acquainted with a school he’d never heard of.
“I was just looking for anything to get involved with,” Pagano said. “Unioto had a program with the kids in the spring and I emailed and said, ‘Hey, you need a coach?’ They said they did and while coaching a team in the spring, I got to know [Unioto boys coach] Brandon [Hanes]. He was the one who said they were looking for a middle school girls coach and I said, ‘Great. I’d love to.’”
The decision that Pagano made to take on those responsibilities absolutely benefits the Shermans’ program at the varsity level. Unioto now has a bonafide coach at the junior high level, developing talent to wait in the wings.
“I’m excited to work with girls that, someday, want to play in front of the fans and under the lights,” Pagano said. “That was the opportunity that presented itself and I’m good with that. I’m hoping that we, first, get enough girls out for the team. Then, my goal is to prepare these girls to play at the highest level. I’m trying to build a culture at that level. That’s the biggest thing.”
He said he also recognizes the fact that things may be a little different, and the game may be played a little slower, when his new teams take the field for the first time this fall.
But that’s OK. Like always, he’s got a game plan in place.
“Obviously, I can’t be as harsh on the younger girls that sometimes, you have to be at the high school level,” Pagano said. “I have to tone that back and I also have to tone back some of my expectations. I’m familiar with a very talented group of girls. I could’ve just sat out there and said, ‘This is the exercise we’re going to do,’ and they’ve got it down pat in about twenty seconds. That’s what I’m used to. Now, it’s not going to be that way. But I’ll adjust to that. I’ll be taking things a little bit slower and explaining things a little more.”
If you’re interested in playing …
There are still spots open on Pagano’s rosters, and within the junior high boys program as well.
The Unioto soccer program has affiliated itself with the Union Youth Soccer League (UYSL), a new club that will use Unioto facilities for home games and practices.
Tryouts and practices are happening this week from 6-7:30 p.m. at the high school soccer pitch.
If you’re interested in playing, you can contact Pagano at 419-788-3868 or boys coaches Tommy Mautz, at 740-253-2045, and Shane Mathey, at 740-804-8332.