By T. Scott Boatright
The Good Lord often works in mysterious ways.
That’s something new Ruston High School boys soccer coach Erich Hankamer believes.
Hankamer is coming to Ruston after coaching the past three seasons at Pennsylvania’s Mifflinburg High School, where his girls’ team won a title and he was named Heartland Athletic Conference Division I Coach of the Year last December.
A 2010 graduate of Fontbonne University in his hometown of St. Louis, Hankamer earned his master’s degree in Sport and Fitness Administration/Management in 2012 from Missouri Baptist University, coaching both girls and boys soccer along the way.
His wife Jillian, a native of Nacogdoches, Texas, has been serving as pastor of First Baptist Church in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, and recently was assigned to take over a church in Monroe, with the Lord’s work leading them to Louisiana.
“The Ruston job came to me from a church contact we made even before we knew it was official that my wife would be taking over the church in Monroe,” Hankamer said. “So I emailed the athletic director and told him that we might be moving to the area and that I was interested in the job, and that I had attached my resume to the email.
“Within 48 hours it turned into my wife and I were moving to Monroe, and I was hired as the new Ruston boys soccer coach.”
While he didn’t play college soccer, Hankamer said a natural, lifelong love for the game led him to coaching soccer.
“Being from St. Louis, it was kind of the sport to play when I was growing up,” Hankamer said. “I just kind of fell in love with it. I’ve had good mentors over the years who taught me the game, and it’s something I love to do to give back. It’s what I’m meant to do.”
Playing as a child for a select team whose coach was from overseas, and also earning the Youth Referee Award in the state of Missouri in 2002, Hankamer said his coaching philosophy is based on a variety of styles.
“Being up here in Pennsylvania the past four years, the game is totally different everywhere you go,” Hankamer said. “So I had to learn to adapt to the style up here. Soccer in St. Louis used more of that possession-style, keeping the ball and knocking it around a little bit kind of play.
“When I moved to Pennsylvania, it was all dump and chase. You get the ball to your fast players and let them do all the work. Coaching at Mifflinburg, I kind of brought that St. Louis philosophy style up here. It took until my third year to really build what we were looking for. But it paid off. This past season at Mifflinburg we had a great season.”
Being patient and seeing his team buy into what he was teaching and see it pay off the way it did
“It was amazing,” Hankamer said. “Going into my first year, I looked at the class I would have as seniors during my third year there. I wanted them to have a successful senior year. I had eight starting seniors last fall, and they were all starters all three years. So seeing them building that knowledge and learning what I was trying to preach was special. I told them that if they listened and trusted me, it would pay off. They bought into the system, and it showed for their final year.”
Hankamer said he’ll build the system he’ll use with the Bearcats around the players he has to work with.
“I think it shows I’m someone who knows and can see and use different philosophies and find ways to adapt and use what works best for the situation the team is in,” Hankamer said. “You build your system for the players you have, and knowing different philosophies helps you do that. I’ve learned over the years that every team you’re going to have will be different. It’s better when you have an opportunity to work with a team for three years like I did at Mifflinburg. I knew what each player was able to do and built a system around them.”
Hankamer and his wife won’t move to Louisiana until July, but he’s already hit it off with new RHS girls soccer coach Jacquelyn Bean, who will handle summer conditioning workouts for both her Lady Bearcats and Hankamer’s Bearcats.
“That’s a great asset to have,” Hankamer said. “I’m coming down in a couple of weeks to meet the team and get some stuff settled and finalized, but I’ve talked to Coach Bean and we have the same kind of philosophy, and that can only help the programs on both sides grow.”
Hankamer said returning to the South is an added bonus for both him and his wife.
“Her family will be only two hours away, and it will be closer for my family in St. Louis, too. It wasn’t the big factor behind us making the move, but it certainly didn’t hurt and is a good thing.
“For me, it’s going to be about adapting again. But that’s what I do. I’ll have to see what I have to work with player-wise. It’s really not starting over as a coach, but seeing how quickly we can adapt to each other as a unit. The one thing I’ll start preaching immediately when I get down there is that we’re going to have to work together. It’ll take time for us to get used to each other, but we’ll grow as a unit together.”
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