CENTENARY, Ohio — It can be easily argued that Richard Isberner quickly built up Gallia Academy High School soccer.
Now, Cory Camden wants to advance the school’s up-and-coming sport.
Camden, following his hiring in mid-March as the new GAHS soccer coach, has been working with the prospective 2017 Blue Devils for the past three months —preparing them for change while aiming to keep the program on its upswing.
This will be Camden’s first varsity head coaching post at Gallia Academy — as he was the Blue Devils’ junior varsity baseball skipper last season.
In fact, most of his coaching background involves baseball, but he has coached soccer at the youth level.
He has been the golf coach at Vinton County — along with varsity baseball coach at South Gallia and assistant baseball coach at Wellston with the late Jim Derrow.
But, no matter the school colors he has donned or what sport he has mentored, Camden can be found along the sidelines showing his intensity.
“Soccer is a passion of mine. I’ve been around it and learned a lot. I’m a super intense and an extremely aggressive and pumped-up guy. I’ll be carrying on some of Coach Isberner’s coaching philosophy as well,” he said, in a recent interview. “I enjoy the game. I could be coaching a kid in Tiddlywinks or chess or anything, and I would be back there hooting and hollering. I want to be a positive and upbeat coach.”
He also wants to pick up where Isberner — after two campaigns —left off.
After several struggling seasons, the Blue Devils — under former coach Isberner — captured the program’s only sectional championships in the past two years.
Last season, Gallia Academy also established a single-season school record for victories with 11 — and earned a share of the Ohio Valley Conference championship with South Point.
It was the Blue Devils’ only league championship in the sport — its initial season in the OVC after long being a member of the now defunct Southeastern Ohio Athletic League.
The OVC, in fact, was in its first official season as a soccer conference — with Gallia Academy, South Point, Chesapeake, Fairland and Rock Hill all having teams.
Camden believes that the Blue Devils should be, despite the usual changes every season and offseason, battling for the league title every fall.
“We are in a league where soccer is very young, so we should be competing for the league championship every year. That’s my thought process behind it,” said the coach. “But it’s still going to be new roles for new players. I can draw anything up on paper. But as we all know, until it goes on the field, things change. I can’t stress enough that we have new personnel on the field. And finding out what makes them tick is going to be my big thing. Are we going to be an offensive team or a defensive team? Are we scoring off quick hitters or set pieces? What are we looking at to be our philosophy and team culture?”
While Isberner played at the University of Rio Grande and was a standout NAIA player, Camden graduated from River Valley —which does not offer soccer.
He has, however, been in regular contact with Isberner about feedback from coaching at the high-school level — and has been “very involved in feeding from” the University of Rio Grande programs.
In fact, his two assistant coaches —Courtney Young and Callum Cobb —both played for the RedStorm.
Camden claimed his assistants “will greatly help with the technical side”, as he prepares the new-look Blue Devils for playing in new positions and formations.
The Blue Devils graduated nine seniors from last season’s squad — and also were impacted by the regular one-year foreign exchange program.
Unofficially, GAHS had 13 players from last season which will not be on the pitch this year.
“Xs and Os, I will have no problem. In soccer, the big thing with formations is right down the spine (middle of the pitch). You want your best players down the spine to help deviate anything that’s going on. Whether it’s a striker, midfielder, or your center backs. You want all of that to be a constant of some of your best players,” said Camden. “It’s going to be different for a lot of these kids, because we graduated so many and even lost two to foreign exchange. A lot of kids will be in new roles that they haven’t been in before, but they have to learn new positions. A lot of them are comfortable with what they have played in the past, but I’m looking at some different formations that we may have to go to.”
Camden also expects the female Blue Devils on the co-ed club to step up.
“We have a lot of young ladies that will be competing for spots. We are a co-ed team and we play a boys schedule, so the physicality of the game will be different, but the young ladies on this team are in the game and have not shown any backdown,” he said. “They are wanting to play like anybody else and they want to fight for everything.”
Camden said his transition since his hiring has gone well, as he held a three-day youth camp in late June.
The Blue Devils are currently conducting open fields until the beginning of mandatory practices, which begin on Aug. 1, and even worked with Rio Grande personnel earlier this summer.
Camden hopes the growth of Gallia Academy soccer indeed continues, and said he will do his part to ensure that it does.
“You hope that the kids that are here now saw that success and can spin off of it as well. There were a ton of people at the games last year and that was great to see. I have big shoes to fill too. Coach Isberner had a great program built. But I don’t want to maintain it. I want to make it bigger,” he said. “It takes a village to make this whole thing work. Not just one or two people. Soccer has kept on growing here at Gallia Academy, and we want to keep running with it. It’s going to be interesting, but it’s going to be fun.”
Paul Boggs can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2106