By: Brandon Cruz
The Nevada women’s soccer program is now bolstered down by new head coach Erin Otagaki. Although there was a national search for a new head coach, Wolf Pack Athletic Director Doug Knuth chose to pick the hometown candidate in Otagaki. She coached at Nevada for both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. She was an assistant coach in 2015 and an interim co-head coach a season ago.
After the program recorded a dismal 15-38-4 record over its past three seasons, Otagaki is faced with the challenge of putting the program back on the map. Otagaki has the chance to bring the team to new heights and seems to have the right plan in mind to do so.
She would like to recruit “blue-collar, hardworking kids who are going to come in and change the landscape in terms of their work ethic and what they’re willing to bring.”
Otagaki also would like to focus on a strong defensive presence, as she wants her team to push the pace of the game by winning the ball higher up the field, which is kind of a funny scheme being that Otagaki herself was an offensive player for the majority of her soccer career. But the phrase “Defense wins championships” is universal in the world of sports, so it’s easy to see why she would gear her focus toward a sound defensive unit.
Granted, Nevada’s new head coach may not be a household name in the realm of coaching, but her resume should make Pack soccer fans a bit more comfortable. Otagaki has spent 11 years coaching between the Purdue Boilermakers and Washington State University. But her coaching career truly began as a volunteer assistant at her alma mater, the University of Washington. In addition to her coaching resume, she knows what it is like to be on the player side of the ball, as she played four seasons at her alma mater along with the fact she has been playing soccer since she was six. During Otagaki’s stint as a player in Washington, she visited the NCAA tournament three times and was a part of the 2000 Pac-10 championship team.
One intangible any great coach must have is an ability to recruit strong athletes. Knuth has made this a focal point in his hirings, as the men’s basketball head coach, Eric Musselman, is a premier recruiter, and Nevada football’s new head coach, Jay Norvell, seems to have a knack for it as well.
“I have a lot of former teammates who are now in the club level of coaching, so I have a lot of ties with good clubs in Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and California that are very strong clubs,” Otagaki said.
A coach’s ability to recruit is revered in the world of sports because it’s a necessity. Without the ability to recruit talent, especially from pipeline states like Oregon and California, programs begin to lose their competitive edge, but it appears Otagaki will do just fine in that area of coaching.
Although Otagaki is looking to recruit heavily, she still believes in the talent Nevada already has. She doesn’t want to start from scratch but rather build upon her team.
“I think we have a fantastic foundation here, and I’m excited to work with these kids. The key to spring will be development — already developing the things that we have in place. We have a great, great team in place,” Otagaki said.
For all those naysayers who believe Nevada can’t be a strong program, coach Otagaki would have to disagree with you, not only because she is the head honcho now but also because she’s always had aspirations of coming to Nevada. She believes “it’s a place you can win” in.
Coach Otagaki has a great deal of work ahead of her, but as long as she sticks to her main goals, Nevada might just be a force to be reckoned with in years to come.
“My main mission is to develop the student athlete academically, athletically and as a person,” Otagaki said.