Changing the narrative: Diego Bocanegra and UH soccer’s new direction
When UH soccer head coach Diego Bocanegra arrived in Houston in 2017 to assume the job of leading the Cougars, the program had just one winning season in the previous decade.
While Bocanegra’s first couple of years at UH had their ups and downs, the first sign of a breakthrough came during the 2020-21 season when the Cougars produced their first winning season since 2010.
Now, with the Cougars currently undefeated through the first quarter of its schedule, the start to the 2021 season seems to indicate that the program has made a full turnaround.
Bocanegra credits the team’s core values, which he instituted shortly after he took over the program, for the Cougars’ success this season.
“This is three and a half years in the making,” he said. “We set a vision for the team that we are not going to compromise on our core values and get the right people and players to buy into the system. We’ve done that.”
The core values start with a positive mentality and giving maximum effort in everything the team does, Bocanegra said. Whether on the field or in the classroom, he expects the team to give everything they can.
“It doesn’t mean rainbows and butterflies, but having the right mentality, the right attitude, the right amount of effort and energy in practice, the classroom and in games,” Bocanegra continued.“Whatever we do, we do it to our best ability. We aren’t always going to feel 100 percent. If you can only give 70 percent of your potential, well I want 100 percent of that 70 percent.”
The last two values Bocanegra has instilled since his arrival are to be a good teammate and to have fun.
“We are all in this together,” he said. “You can see if you watch our games that we fight for each other on the field, and it shows up. Being a good teammate is knowing when to hold your teammates accountable.”
Bocanegra believes the current record that the team has indicated that the team has been holding to their core values and that the team is all in both on the field and in the classroom he says.
“We focus on those four core values in everything we do. That’s why we’re doing well on the soccer field, and that’s why we have the best GPA in the athletic department,” he said, boasting UH soccer’s 3.71 team GPA last spring.
Senior leadership has been a key part of the team’s growth and success to this point as well, with the team’s captains getting praise from Bocanegra for their leadership and embodiment of the core values.
“Our two captains, Cassidy Formanek and Emma Clarke, they both lead in different ways and have different personalities,” he said. “Between the two of them, the entire team resonates. They embody the core values in their own way.”
Formanek and Clarke are seniors who have been with the program all four years of their collegiate careers and have been with the team for the entirety of Bocanegra’s turnaround of the program.
Though the season is still young, Bocanegra believes the team is headed in the right direction due to these values. UH is off to its best start since 2016 and on pace for one of the best seasons in program history.
“I’m more excited to see us continue on this path,” Bocanegra said. “Adversity is going to come. There’s going to be some difficult games ahead, but I think we’ll be ready for it.”