By Kyle LoJacono
Erin Dodd made waves playing soccer at Zephyrhills High and is continuing to make an impact as Wiregrass Ranch’s coach.
Dodd’s love for soccer goes back to her earliest memories growing up in Zephyrhills. She started playing in a league at age 4 but has pictures of herself kicking a ball when she was about 2.
“Or at least that’s what I think I was trying to do,” Dodd said with a smile. “Not quite sure at that age. … My older brothers all played, so whatever sport they were playing I was automatically interested in because I look up to both of them.”
Girls soccer was in its infancy during Dodd’s childhood and there were few opportunities to play while in elementary school.
“There weren’t any girls leagues, so I was playing in the boys leagues,” Dodd said. “In fifth grade I found an all-girls league in Temple Terrace.”
It was around that time Dodd started understanding the game in a way that separated her from those she played against.
“I love the creativity,” Dodd said. “It really is such a simple game, but you can be so creative with it especially if you work well with your teammates and the players around you. It’s a creative, beautiful game.”
Dodd scored 147 goals while playing midfield at Zephyrhills, setting the career record for the program.
“It was a great accomplishment to be able to set that record, but I think even more when I was playing girls soccer wasn’t very big,” Dodd said. “Soccer in general was just growing. For Pasco County and for Zephyrhills I think I was able to inspire some younger players and give them something to shoot for.”
Dodd’s time at Zephyrhills was one of the most successful stretches in Bulldogs’ history. The squad won a pair of district championships and reached the Class 4A regional semifinals during her senior campaign in 1997, the furthest the program has gone in the playoffs.
Dodd was an all-Sunshine State Conference (SAC) selection every year in high school and earned a scholarship to play at the University of Memphis where she played striker.
“College was probably my best memories because of all the new people I met and the places I got to travel to,” Dodd said. “I got to see things I probably wouldn’t have been able to if I wasn’t playing soccer.”
After her playing career ended, Dodd started coaching to help young players realize their own talents.
“It was an opportunity to work with them one-on-one and as a group making sure they’re doing everything they can to be better not just as players but as teammates and people,” Dodd said.
She became the girls coach at John Long Middle six years ago. Dodd led the squad to a 4-3-3 record that season, the last time it would lose while she was at the helm. The Longhorns rattled off three consecutive perfect seasons, including 26 straight victories.
Dodd’s teams did not slow down when she became Wiregrass Ranch’s coach last season. The Bulls had won 22 games during the program’s first four years, but under their new leader they went 23-3-2 en route to winning a district championship and making the Class 4A regional finals.
Dodd was named the All-Laker/All-Lutz News and SAC girls soccer east Coach of the Year for her work last season.
“That entire year was my favorite memory coaching,” Dodd said. “I’d worked with a majority of the girls before, and being able to come back and work with them again and be successful was special. To see how truly happy they were and realizing how successful they could be for themselves was really great.”
Wiregrass Ranch sophomore defender Grace Olsen was not surprised what the squad has done with Dodd leading them.
“She’s been a huge part of the team,” said Olsen, who was coached by Dodd at John Long. “If you just look at the record the last two years you can see that. … She’s been really consistent. She also keeps things really entertaining. I haven’t gotten sick of her coaching even though she’s coached me the last four years. I always want to play, and I want to play for her.”
Bulls junior forward Berlin Waters was also excited with the prospects of learning from Dodd, who was her coach for a year with the Wesley Chapel Flames club.
“When I came to Wiregrass Ranch last year and heard she was going to be the coach it was nice to have someone I already knew,” said Waters, who has a team-high 18 goals this year. “It’s nice to know she can get the team working together and winning games. … She knows how to connect with the players, she knows what to do with the different positions and she knows how she needs to coach each of us individually.”
Dodd’s work with two players last year helped them get scholarships, the first Bulls soccer players to sign with a college in school history. Midfielder Sierra Monday and defender/midfielder Nicole Esposito signed with Brewton-Parker College and Polk State College, respectively.
“It’s great to listen to their experiences when they come back,” Dodd said. “It’s good for them because they start to see life in a whole different way. They’re having some of the same experiences I had, and it’s good to see.”
This season Wiregrass Ranch is 13-4, giving Dodd a record 66-10-5 overall.
Wiregrass Ranch played at Ridgewood on Jan. 10 but results were not available by press time. The Bulls’ next major challenge is the Class 4A-District 8 tournament at Freedom Jan. 17-20, where they are the No. 3 seed. Wiregrass Ranch must make the finals to earn a playoff spot, but Dodd sees good things in the future regardless of the outcome.
“I think it’s only going to keep growing,” Dodd said. “These girls in the community are starting to realize the capabilities they have and how far they can actually go. My goal is to build a program here that people want to be a part of. I think with this group we’re already on the way to doing that.”
–All stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches.