The Rancho Mirage High School sports programs, which are playing at the varsity level for the first time this season, don’t have to look far for a blueprint to success.
A handful of area coaches have shown recently, that positive results and championships can happen right away.
Xavier Prep track and cross country coach Aron Lyons started a program that has become a force in Desert Valley League since its inception in 2006.
Desert Mirage soccer Jorge Chavez has led his Rams, who only began playing varsity sports in 2005, to two CIF titles.
Shadow Hills volleyball coach Melissa Walker has taken the Knights to an elite level since the Indio school opened in 2009, winning back to back De Anza League championships in 2012 and 2013.
Each of those programs qualified for the CIF postseason in their first varsity season. And all three coaches agree that Rancho Mirage High School can duplicate their efforts.
“They’ll be wildly successful,” said Lyons. “They’ve got the infrastructure and Chris (athletic director Calderwood) did such a great job at Palm Springs. I think they’ll be great.”
Lyons noted that each coach, whether new at the varsity level, or others like football coach L.D. Matthews, basketball coach Rob Hanmer or volleyball coach Shane Hagar, all varsity veterans, will be able to build their program quickly despite having no history.
“It was the little things from needing uniforms to getting transportation or sharing athletes, the most basic level and you embrace it,” said Lyons. “You don’t know who you are, everything is brand new, and that adds to the difficulty.”
It was borderline micro-managing, Lyons recalled. He met pseudo-runners who had never attended a cross country meet, some didn’t know how to tie their shoes properly or what to eat — or what not to do — on game day.
“All those trials and tribulations make you better,” he said. “You embrace the challenge. It was exciting that we could establish ourselves to who we wanted to be. And at Xavier, whatever that was, it’s gonna be my good or my bad with my stamp on it.”
Both Walker and Lyons added that patience is a key and there was plenty of it at Shadow Hills when Walker and her sister, Ashley, began the program.
“We were willing to take the time to work on all the little things,” said Walker whose first varsity team earned a CIF bid for a 10-10 finish. “All the girls had no background at all. They were all freshmen and sophomores who never played. The girls saw that we were patient and they fed off that.
“They started putting in more time and effort when they saw that we did. They just have to understand that winning isn’t as important as getting better, and it will eventually pay off.”
At Desert Mirage, Chavez took over as athletic director at the new school after winning a CIF title at Coachella Valley, but he said it won’t be long before Rancho Mirage dominates with its central location and veteran leadership.
“It is very exciting to get more teams in the league because that’s when it becomes more competitive,” said Chavez, who only coaches soccer now. “They’ll bring a lot of competition to our league. They do have more resources there, more parks, more recreation and club teams, so they have an advantage there.
“And veteran coaches make a difference. They make the decisions, they know the kids, they develop the program. Coaching is everything and you see that at all levels.
“You just have to love what you’re doing, let the kids know, it’s your passion.”