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    Saturday, September 24, 2022

    New London’s Santana brings energy and enthusiam to her first college coaching job

    Connecticut College assistant women’s soccer coach Mia Santana leads the halftime warmups during last Wednesday’s match against Coast Guard. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Connecticut College assistant women’s soccer coach Mia Santana, center, speaks to volunteer coach Rob Brule, left, during last Wednesday’s game against Coast Guard. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    New London – When Norm Riker started his search for a full-time assistant coach for his Connecticut College women’s soccer program, Mia Santana quickly emerged as a strong candidate.

    Riker already knew Santana, who played for him and had coaching experience on the club level.

    Watching Santana interact with the Camels during a practice session in April as part of the interview process convinced Riker to offer the former Camel the job.

    “She has a great energy, a great field presence and a great coaching voice, too,” said Riker, who’s guided Conn since 2011. “She gets your attention without yelling and really commands a player’s attention. That became evident when she ran her session here for the players during the interview process.

    “... No offense to the other candidates, nobody did that.”

    Santana joined the program in May and now is five games into her college coaching career.

    Looking back, Santana admits she wasn’t as cool as she appeared to be that day on the practice field.

    “I was terrified,” she said with a laugh. “But, as soon as I got there, I felt so comfortable. I think the introduction part was the hardest part, just talking to them and trying to sound as mature and professional as possible. As soon as the session started, it was fun.”

    Santana is a local success story.

    Born and raised in the area, Santana attended New London schools, played club soccer for Southeast and then continued on to Conn, graduating in 2020. She majored in human development.

    Forging a connection with her hometown community is important to Santana.

    “It’s amazing,” she said. “I think just being able to still live in New London and being so close to my family has just been so nice. I try to reach out to my old Southeast players to ask them to come watch a game. I’ll wear my Conn gear and I’ll go to Stop & Shop and get stopped by someone – ‘Hey, I’d like to come to the game. You’re from New London as well.’

    “Those conversations, it’s just been so nice to connect to New London because they know I’m from here and I also work here so it brings more of the New London community onto the Connecticut College campus, which I always strive for. I want us to be as connected as possible.”

    Santana discovered her joy for coaching working soccer camps at Conn College and in Waterford at the Connecticut Coast camp.

    By her junior year in college, Santana’s interest had grown to the point that she decided to pursue coaching as a career.

    “I love working with younger kids,” she said. “I wanted to be a teacher. What I learned is that coaching is a lot like teaching and I get to do the sport I love every single day, so that’s what really pushed me into the coaching business.”

    Santana received a soccer education playing for Riker and coaching at Southeast Soccer after graduating from college.

    Southeast’s Tom Butler has had a big impact on her.

    “He was so amazing to work with,” Santana said. “Everything is so organized with him. He has great relationships with the players. … He inspired me so much.”

    At Conn College, Santana is an interesting position, coaching a team that has five of her former teammates on the roster.

    Riker was never concerned that Santana might struggle with bridging the gap from player to coach and also teammate to coach.

    Santana has learned to handle the potentially awkward situation.

    “It has its ups and downs,” She said. “Being so close in age, I can relate more and I can create good relationships with them. But, at the same time, that respect, I feel like that did take awhile just because I was so close in age to them and they need to know, yes, I did just graduate two or three years ago but I’m your coach now and you’re going to have to respect me that way.

    “I’m learning every day.”

    Almost every day Santana is reminded that she’s a rookie in the college coaching ranks.

    She quickly discovered her new job is very demanding and time-consuming. Unlike during her playing days when she could just head home after a game, she goes back to the office with Riker to break down film, start scouting for the next opponent and dealing with whatever is the issue of the day.

    But she loves every aspect of her job, even the grind of recruiting.

    Her ability to easily adapt to technology is a plus, saving Riker some valuable time and frustration.

    She’s also comfortable navigating the social media world. And recruits warm up to talking to someone closer to their age.

    “We’re getting a cool factor there that we didn’t have before,” Riker said.

    Riker is passing along his wisdom and vast coaching knowledge to Santana, who’s the only full-time assistant on the staff.

    “I’m learning so much from him,” Santana said.

    Teaching might be in her future down the road. But right now her focus is on coaching.

    “There’s no better compliment as a person but also as a coach when one of your former players says, ‘Coach, I want to work with you.’ “ Riker said. ”I’m really proud of that. That’s the best compliment of all.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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