The Highland boys soccer team began the 2019 season not sweating in the 90-plus degree heat, but instead getting a face-to-face feel for their new head coach.
Jay Robertson, who has lived in Highland the past four years, took over as coach of the Bulldogs just two weeks ago. And he spent about an hour Monday — the first official day of fall practices for local athletes in the metro-east and across the state of Illinois — getting to better know his new team.
“About a week and half ago I was named head coach and tonight, we just wanted to try to go over some stuff and just wanted to have a meeting and go how things will hopefully go the next couple of weeks and get some practice in,” Robertson said.
When former coach Josh Oswald left to take a coaching position at Blackburn College in Carlinville, Illinois, earlier this summer, Robertson saw the job posted on the school’s athletic website and decided to pursue it.
“I had moved here with my family to Highland four years ago and my kids are all in school at Highland. I noticed the posting about the boys job had opened up and I had coached for a few years before that and I love the town up here, so I just went from there,” Robertson said.
Robertson does have experience as a head coach, as he coached at Alton High School from 2010-15. Prior to this, he coached two seasons a Granite City and two years at Althoff Catholic. That 10 years of experience made Robertson a good fit for Highland.
PJ Held will be Robertson’s assistant coach. Held worked under Robertson at Alton as an assistant there.
A major disadvantage Robertson had entering so late was limited contact with the incoming players. He hopes to get up to speed with them in earnest.
“Coming late, I really wasn’t around them for their contact days (this summer) but I know they were playing a lot. So I talked to the other coach (Oswald) and I know he did a good job with this program. He’s been really helpful and hopefully we’ve got a good feeling of who’s coming back and who’s in the fold,” Robertson said.
Robertson said the players have accepted him pretty well thus far.
“They have been real, real welcoming,” he said. “We had a pretty good meeting tonight with them asking questions and them getting to know me and we’re kind of learning on the fly, getting to know each other.”
Overall, Robertson hopes HHS improves upon last season’s 8-13-1 record while showing well in the Mississippi Valley Conference and potentially having some playoff success.
“Obviously, you want to win every game but always winning the conference will be a goal and from there, regionals, sectionals, and shooting for a state tournament berth,” Robertson said.
Long term, Robertson hopes the program wins as many games as possible, while wanting to help every player grow as a soccer player and as a student-athlete.
Highland is scheduled to open the season at 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 26, at Freeburg.