Val Baughman can remember it like it was yesterday.
Seventeen years ago, the rookie Cloverleaf girls soccer coach left the Brunswick High School stadium with a dejected team after the program’s first loss — an 11-0 defeat inflicted by the Blue Devils.
“I remember walking out at the Brunswick Stadium and looking at (then athletic director) Rose Marie Torma and saying ‘We’ll get better,’” Baughman said.
Boy was she right.
The veteran coach has seen her starter program blossom into one of the elite ones in the area and while the Colts will return some key pieces from this season’s Suburban League championship team, they will do it for the first time in school history with a new coach after Baughman announced her retirement over the weekend.
“The girls year-to-year have made me just really proud,” she said. “I’ve had hardworking girls, talented girls and I’ve just had the most rewarding experience… one of the best of my life.
“It just feels like the right time. Of course, there’s a part of me that is extremely sad that I’m leaving, but there is a bigger part that knows in my heart that it’s the right time.”
After Cloverleaf’s 2-0 Brunswick Division I Sectional final loss to North Royalton last Saturday, Baughman told her team that she would not be returning for her 18th season.
“I knew it would be my last year at the beginning of the season,” Baughman said. “I told (athletic director) Craig Walkup, my coaching staff and obviously my family and a few friends,” she said. “It was hard and it was exciting. I still put my heart and soul into it. I still wanted to win the league. I wanted to do everything the same as I always had done, because that’s just how I am.
“I actually think I enjoyed it a little bit more. I don’t know if that sounds odd, but I tried to enjoy it more with knowing that it was my last.” And why wouldn’t she.
The Colts won a third straight outright SL title this year —the fourth in the program’s history – with a roster that has three players already committed to Division I colleges and another prepared to play D-II soccer. The other league crown was shared with Revere in 1998.
Baughman, who was the D-I District Coach of the Year and Kim Mahoney Ethics Award winner a season ago, has compiled a 209-64-31 mark and has never had a losing season. Even in that inaugural campaign, Cloverleaf found a way to compile a 9-8-1 mark.
Despite all that success, the Colts coach still knew now was the right time to step aside.
“You always think that you could go another year, but there has to be a time that you end,” Baughman admitted.
“It’s tough too, because there are such good kids coming back. Not just great athletes and soccer players, but nice kids that are easy to like and are really fun … so that makes it really hard, too.”
Forward Heather Buckwald and midfielder Megan Connor – two of the team’s top three scorers— are just a couple of the players that Cloverleaf will have back next season.
While her days as a head coach are over, Baughman, a physical education teacher at Cloverleaf Middle School the last 30 years, doesn’t rule out the possibility of being on a pitch in some capacity next fall.
“I’m stepping down as head coach, but I’ve left options out there in coming back, because it’s such a big part of me,” she said. “I know I’m going to miss it. I’m not saying that I am coming back, but I’m open to the possibility.”
It has been quite a journey for Baughman. She has seen the sport of girls soccer evolve while watching her program grow into one that most rural-area schools have a tough time producing on a consistent basis.
“I could’ve not ever imagined it would turn out this fantastic,” Baughman said. “It’s been fun from Day One and I would do it all again if I could. I really would.
“I’ve had such great support from the parents, administration and the Cloverleaf community. I’ve loved it all. It’s been fun.”
Contact Dan Brown at email@example.com.