This story was corrected on April 22, 2013. An explanation follows the story.
Trey Messiah has wanted to be a soccer coach ever since he was a little kid with a ball at his feet. His skills with that ball kept him on the playing side of the equation until last December, when he finished up his senior season as a defender for James Madison University. From there, it didn’t take long for Messiah’s long-held coaching ambitions to come to fruition.
The Northern Virginia product, who starred for Westfield from 2005-08, returned home in December to take the junior varsity coaching job at his former high school. He was set to work alongside Sean Lanigan, who left Herndon to take over Westfield’s varsity coaching slot.
But when he arrived to the area, Messiah decided to interview for the coaching vacancy Lanigan left at Herndon. Soon enough, the 23-year-old found himself at the forefront of the defending Concorde District champions.
“It’s definitely been a roller coaster,” Messiah said.
One month into his first coaching gig, Messiah has his team sitting at 6-1-2, putting them in position to go after another district crown this spring. A 3-1 win against Chantilly on Monday night extended the Hornets’ winning streak to six games and vaulted them to No. 6 in The Washington Post All-Met poll. Messiah and Lanigan faced each other on the sideline Wednesday night, when Herndon and Westfield battled to a 0-0 draw.
Success at this level is nothing new for Herndon’s promising young coach, who won two Concorde titles and a region championship during his playing days at Westfield. Nor is it foreign to a Herndon program that has long held a place near the top of the area’s pecking order.
“Winning at the high school level is in my blood, and it’s relevant at Herndon High School,” Messiah said Tuesday. “So as happy as we are to be 6-1-1 right now, looking back I feel like this is where we are supposed to be.”
Replacing a coach as decorated as Lanigan meant there were big shoes to fill, but so far Messiah has earned the respect of his team. Players sometimes relate to him more as an older teammate than a coach, someone barely removed from the rigors they face on the field every day. The line between player and coach blurs when Messiah invariably throws off his khakis in favor of shorts and cleats at some point during every practice, mixing it up with his guys in the possession grid or the scrimmage field.
“One thing that I see in him is that he really trusts us as players and as a team,” said midfielder Carlos Mendoza, a senior co-captain on the team. “That’s something as a first coach is hard to do because it’s all new players and he doesn’t really know anybody. So the fact that he trusts us is really big. It comes over from practice into the game, and if he tells us something, we trust him.”
Messiah looks back on his sudden arrival as a positive for his team, since his lack of prior attachment prevented him from playing favorites when it came to allocating positions and playing time. Only a handful of key seniors — among them Mendoza, Kurt Meyers, Josh Glazier and Oscar Reyes — fell back into familiar roles with the team this year. The rest of the rotation, which features only three returning starters, has been shuffled to best accommodate what lies in front of their coach rather than what lies behind him.
“We have a ton of guys that are finding new roles and playing a lot of minutes that they haven’t played before,” Messiah said. “Getting them energized for practices and games isn’t a hard thing to do. I’ve been really pleased with their work ethic and ability to change and try new things.”
Among those fresh faces is Michael Volpe, a freshman forward who currently leads the Hornets with four goals. Messiah, who played for Volpe’s father as a 15-year-old on Reston FC, was drawn to Volpe’s work ethic and speed from the outset. He increased the freshman’s playing time by five or 10 minutes after a scrappy goal scored in a scrimmage. When his team was without a win after the season’s first two games, Messiah thrust Volpe into the starting 11 for their game against First Colonial in Virginia Beach. Herndon won that contest, 2-0, thanks to a pair of goals by their freshman striker.
Volpe’s teammates, meanwhile, are adapting to roles that differ slightly from their preseason expectations. Mendoza, for example, used to view himself mainly as a scoring threat, but he’s tempered his outlook this season to become a better distributor.
“At first I wanted to get like a goal a game, but then I sort of changed my perspective on that because it’s not about being an individual player; it’s about how I can contribute to the team and help us to be successful,” Mendoza said.
Messiah made his goals clear on the day after tryouts: win every home game, win the district and don’t allow more than one goal per game. So far the Hornets are right on pace with two of those targets — they haven’t yet lost at home, and they have allowed eight goals in eight games. The third target, Messiah says, will remain in sight if his team can find a way to maintain its intensity in games from start to finish.
“I feel like if we can string together a solid 80-minute game, then I don’t think anyone in the region can really keep up with us,” he said.
Correction: Kurt Meyers’ last name was misspelled in the original article.