First-year Rancho coach leans on experienced team

Replacing graduated seniors and integrating new players into a team’s system can be a challenge for a high school girls soccer coach.

So what happens when the newest member of the team is the coach?

“It’s scary,” said first-year coach John Besancon, who has stepped into the role with defending Northeast League champion Rancho. “There are huge expectations. I know that if it’s anything less (than last year), they’re staring at the coach automatically.”

Lucky for Besancon, he has a pretty good team around him.

The Rams return 10 players, including goalkeeper Rachael Wiltshire and midfielder Jahmela Muhammad, a senior who has committed to UNLV. That should make Besancon’s transition a little more comfortable.

“What an amazing athlete, endurance-wise, ball skill-wise, involving other players,” Besancon said of Muhammad. “I would take 100 of her and would be unbeatable.

“She’s able to stop (the ball) on a dime, put it wherever she wants it. The power behind her shot is killer. I wouldn’t want to be in the way of that thing without body armor.”

Besancon calls his team “hungry” for a Southern Nevada championship, and few Rams players are hungrier than Muhammad.

“My No. 1 goal is to win the title, of course,” she said. “I want to get my ring. I’ve been trying to get it since my sophomore year, and now that I’m a senior, it’s time.”

Muhammad expects this year’s team to top last year’s accomplishments, even without starter Zakiya Bywaters, who was rated No. 17 in the nation by ESPN RISE and now plays for UCLA.

“We’re going to come out stronger,” Muhammad said. “Most of the girls this year aren’t playing scared. They’re going to win balls. I think we’re going to win the championship.”

Most of the Rancho players also play club soccer, including Muhammad, who plays for Las Vegas Premier SC. The extra practices are worth it, though, she said.

“I run every day, work out every morning, come to practice, then I go from high school practice to club practice,” she said.

There’s a noticeable difference in talent with the extra match experience gained through club soccer.

“The majority of them play club ball, so I already know they had a lot of ability,” Besancon said. “It’s fun to see them get back together and play as this team instead of all their other teams.”

With a team like the one welcoming Besancon, the rookie coach and fourth-year math teacher just might hang around for a while.

“It’s not just Jahmela, but our keeper, Rachael Wiltshire, is back. The majority of the midfield is back as well. The defense has been solid,” he said. “It’s much simpler knowing that there is a good base to build off, not only for this year but for the next couple of years to come.”

Contact reporter Sean Walker at swalker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0430.

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