GREENFIELD — A pioneer of sorts in Hancock County soccer, Erin Clark hopes to make more history this fall in charge of the Greenfield-Central girls program.
Clark was recently hired by the Cougars as their new soccer coach, replacing Amanda Eid, who, last year, guided the club to its first sectional title since 2005 before moving back home to Fort Wayne.
No G-C girls soccer team has ever won back-to-back sectionals or a regional title. With nearly the entire roster set to return for the start of the season next month, the 2013 Cougars and Clark have a chance to do both.
Clark knows something of firsts. A 1996 New Palestine graduate, she played on the first Dragons’ boys soccer teams after the IHSAA sanctioned the sport in 1994. New Palestine didn’t field a girls soccer team until Clark graduated, and she returned in 1997 to become the New Palestine ladies’ first head coach.
“There wasn’t anyone, at least not girls, in New Pal playing soccer at that time,” Clark recalled of her first girls’ team. “It started a little bit rougher at the beginning, because the first year I coached, I only had one girl who had ever played soccer, so we started with ‘There are 11 people on a field. You can’t touch it with your hand.’ So, we started really basic, just with the rules of soccer.”
My, how times changed. Dana Merrick, who was Clark’s coach on the boys team at New Palestine, later took over the girls’ squad and guided the program to six straight sectional titles. It was Eid’s unit last fall that broke the New Palestine sectional stranglehold, defeating the Dragons 2-0 to win the 2A title at Mt. Vernon.
Merrick retired following the sixth sectional title in 2011, and Bobby Holden was the Dragons’ girls coach last season.
Clark, who lives with her husband and two children in New Palestine, was grilled on her allegiance upon meeting her new Cougars last week.
“The girls asked me about that the first day,” said Clark, who was also recently hired to teach second grade at J.B. Stephens Elementary in Greenfield. “They’re like, ‘What about when we play New Pal? Do you still want us to win?’ I said, ‘Yeah, of course.’
“I’m excited to face New Pal. It’s definitely a big rivalry. The girls are already talking about it, just in summer camp.”
Jayde Jackson, a junior, is pumped for the fall campaign as well as the new coach.
“Cannot wait for the season,” she posted on Twitter when news of the hire was released. “She’s a great person.”
In addition to playing soccer at New Palestine, the new Cougars’ coach was also a member of the Dragons’ basketball team, then coached by Al Cooper.
Cooper, now the New Palestine athletic director, termed Clark “a tough young lady and a great athlete.”
“I enjoyed coaching her,” he said. “She will demand excellence. Great hire for G-C. I wish her all the best.”
Following graduation from New Palestine, Clark (formerly Erin Archer) went on to star at the University of Indianapolis. She remains among the Greyounds’ all-time single-season soccer goal scorers, and during her senior season of 1999-2000, she won the school’s Outstanding Female Athlete award.
Clark, who also played professionally for the Indiana Blaze, later moved to South Carolina to begin her teaching career, then returned to Indiana, where she spent the last seven years teaching in Decatur Township in southwestern Marion County.
Clark was head coach at Bluffton High School in South Carolina before taking a break to start a family.
“Been out of the coaching scene for a while, because with little kids, it’s tough to do,” Clark said. “But they’re 3 and 4 now.
“Then I heard about the opportunity at Greenfield, and saw that it would be a good opportunity to get back into coaching, closer to home. I was driving a long distance to work and kind of wanted to come back to Hancock County.”
While her roots are now firmly planted in Hancock County, Clark didn’t attend New Palestine until her sophomore year of high school.
Previously, her family lived in Pennsylvania and Germany, as her father worked for a German-based corporation.
“In Germany, you play soccer on the streets,” Clark explained. “It’s like basketball here. So, that’s just what you do all day. You just play soccer.
“I started playing by trying to keep up with my (older) brother and his friends. I had to be pretty aggressive, get up when I was down. That’s the only way they would let me play, if I could keep up with them, so that was my motivation.”
Clark plans to style the Cougars in the same aggressive mold. All-State goalkeeper Katie Peters graduated from last fall’s sectional-winning squad, but the rest of the team is back, including Sammie McCoy, the county’s leading scorer last year as a junior.
“My thought is we’re definitely trying to get in shape so that we can move the ball quickly, keep possession, outrun teams, outlast teams and really move,” Clark said. “There is some speed. Sammie up front obviously has some really good speed.
“I know they lost a really strong goalkeeper last year, but Courtney Dunn, she’s really impressed me (in goal). So I’m really excited about that, because she trained last year with Katie, so you can tell that helped a lot.”
Clark said she’s also been impressed by midfielders Alli Frazier and Abbey Schulz.
“I’m pretty excited. There’s a lot of depth, I mean, they only graduated one person. But, like any team, we have things to work on, for sure.”