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Taking the Next Step

Gardea Named Head Women’s Soccer Coach at Angelina College

By GARY STALLARD

AC Athletics

            For the past few years, the Angelina College Lady Roadrunner soccer team has been on the cusp of achieving a berth in the NCJAA Division I National Tournament.

            With hiring of its new head coach, the program is hoping to take those next big steps very soon.

            Sergio Gardea, who has spent the past few years helping build Jacksonville College programs, recently was named the head coach of the Lady Roadrunners. Not only does Gardea bring familiarity with a tough Region XIV conference, he also brings a resume filled with success as both a player and a coach.

            Gardea also worked at Jacksonville with current AC men’s head coach Martin Melchor, and Gardea said the Lufkin area’s reputation was a big reason he chose to take on this role.

            “Even though I’m not from the East Texas area, I’ve been living here for the past 10-12 years, so I’m very familiar with this area,” Gardea said. “I’m familiar with how the Lufkin community is when it comes to supporting our students striving to graduate, and I’m familiar with how important soccer is in this area.

            “Also, I’ve already been coaching, so I know a lot of teams in this area. I know the level of competition, and I know what it takes to win. That’s the main thing: To have a successful program in this region, and to have a nationally ranked team.”

A native of El Paso, Gardea graduated from Americas High School, serving as the boys soccer team’s goalkeeper, where he earned All-City Goalkeeper honors following his senior year. His skills landed him a spot at Cisco College, helping the team to its first national ranking in the history of the program.

Later, Gardea transferred to UT-Tyler, and in 2011 helped the team to the American Southwest Conference and ASC Tournament championships. That same season, UT-Tyler advanced to the final eight in the NCAA Division III national tournament – the farthest any Patriot men’s soccer team had ever advanced in a national tournament.

In addition, Gardea holds the Patriot program record for most shutouts by a goalkeeper.  

            He feels his experiences at the junior college level will provide a big benefit to his players.

“I understand the whole process of being a JUCO player and having that dream of going to a four-year school,” Gardea said. “I’m also aware that at a junior college, a lot of these kids are going to be first-generation college students, and for some, it will be their first time coming to the United States.

            “That’s something with which I’m completely familiar,” Gardea added. “I was a first-generation college student. I was the first person in my family to attend college, and I also came here from Mexico, so I can understand those feelings. It’s a hard transition coming from one country to another, and I understand those challenges completely.”

            Asked to describe his approach to coaching, Gardea specified the importance of a mental approach for every player.

            “I would say decision making is the most important thing I coach,” Gardea said. “I give them some guidance, but I also want to make sure they’re making the right decisions all the time. Soccer is not a sport where you can just call a timeout and reset everything. I have to make sure the girls know the plan, that they can make decisions and that they can see the game.

            “A lot of my soccer philosophy relies on decision making and practice. That’s not just for soccer, but also for life, because those players are going to have to make decisions all their lives.”

            Gardea will have several key players returning from the 2023 season, and he said those women, along with a strong class if incoming freshmen, means the program won’t endure any “rebuilding stage.” In fact, Gardea said he’s already got the program’s goals in place.

            “We want to continue what the Angelina College women’s program has done for the past three years, which means achieving national rankings,” Gardea said. “We hope to be the first AC soccer women’s team to qualify for the national tournament.”

Gardea is the son of Sara Santiesteban and Sergio Gardea, Sr., and the brother of Liz Hernandez.

The email address for AC’s Sports Information Director is gstallard@angelina.edu.