BELLEVILLE — Belleville East's girls soccer team will have a Granite City flavor next spring.
The Lancers have hired Erika Baptist, formerly Erika Todd, as their new coach. Baptist graduated from Granite City High School in 2000 when she was the Belleville News-Democrat's Player of the Year.
Baptist, 31, replaces Brad Dietrich, who resigned after just one season at the helm. East was 11-9-2 overall and 3-2-1 in the Southwestern Conference last season.
Baptist was recommended for the position by Lindsay Eversmeyer. Baptist is an assistant coach under Eversmeyer for the Fire & Ice Soccer Club of the Women's Premier Soccer League and at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis.
When East asked Eversmeyer to replace Dietrich, Eversmeyer declined and suggested Baptist. Eversmeyer previously had been an assistant coach at East.
"I've been looking for something of my own since the summer," said Baptist, who has worked the last two years for Elite FT, a fitness and training organization led by Justin McMillian.
Baptist thought she might land on the coaching staff at Granite City under Jeff Hayes with the boys team or Ken Prazma with the girls.
"Working with Elite, I was with Jeff Hayes and Coach Prazma," Baptist said. "I trained the boys in the summer and (Hayes) was like, 'Hey, you need a job here because you're great with the boys.' I was like, 'Well, you better let me know because I'm going to go after something of my own if you don't.'
"Granite City never got back to me, so I'm going to be gunning for them."
But Baptist isn't complaining. The talent level, she said, is high at all SWC schools.
"All the schools are great," she said. "There's such a rich soccer tradition over here and I can't wait to make an impact."
Baptist is East's third coach in three years. Dietrich replaced Alex McDonald in July 2012. McDonald had taken over for Mark Lasley in July 2009.
Baptist hopes to give the program stability even as she is attending Chamberlain College of Nursing in St. Louis. She earned her bachelor's degree at Southeast Missouri State, where she played for 3 1/2 seasons and scored 28 goals before suffering an ACL injury that limited her to seven games as a senior in 2003.
After leaving SEMO, Baptist worked for clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch and AT&T before starting nursing school, which she will complete in one year. Baptist and her husband, Matthew, have two children: daughter Rhyan, 4, and son Beckett, 3.
"I fell back into soccer after playing forever," Baptist said. "I was just working; I wasn't really doing anything with soccer. Now I want that.
"I like to hammer down fundamentals and, at this level, reteach soccer knowledge -- like how to defend properly. I'm all about playing smarter than (just) harder. I want hard-working kids, I want to be fitter than everybody else and I want to teach them how to possess. That's kind of my vision."
Baptist played under legendary Gene Baker at Granite City and had 60 goals and 26 assists in her career. Baptist said Baker was a major influence.
"I would say I got a lot of my skill set from my club coach, but he taught me a lot about who I was off the field, and he did that through soccer," Baptist said. "He was all about work ethic. He's such a dynamic person. That's the part of me that I want to instill at Belleville East --the things he instilled in me. I can't say enough about the man."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.