Soccer has taken Whitney Valdez to many places across the country and around the world. But she considers Paducah her home. So she’s thrilled at getting the opportunity to coach the Paducah Tilghman High School girls soccer team.
“This means the world to me. This is one of the most amazing opportunities that I never thought I’d get,” Valdez told The Sun on Wednesday. “Being able to come back home and coach girls on the same fields that I came up playing on and to be able to impart on them a passion and love for the game is amazing.”
Valdez is taking over for Wes Newsome following a 2020 season in which the Lady Blue Tornado went 5-5-1. PTHS Athletic Director Jason Nickal officially announced the new hire in a press release on May 21.
“We are really excited about the energy and experience that Whitney Valdez will bring to the PT girls soccer team,” Nickal said in the release. “Coach Valdez is looking to make an immediate impact on the team and make the girls competitive in a very tough soccer region.”
That region includes the likes of McCracken County, Graves County and Marshall County, which all finished with double-digit win totals in 2020. The Lady Blue Tornado are looking to join that category with Valdez at the helm. This will be Valdez’s first scholastic head-coaching job, but she brings a wealth of experience and knowledge of the game having played it for much of her life.
She started playing soccer at the age of 7 when her family moved from Arizona to Hawaii. She took after her older brother, whom she described as a “wonderful soccer player,” and soon fell in love with the sport.
“It felt like all was right in the world when I was playing,” she said. “For 90 minutes when I stepped inside those white lines, I felt like I could breathe better, and it felt like my whole world made sense, and I just felt at home. It was my safe place. It was my happy place. It was where nothing else in the world mattered.”
At the age of 9, Valdez was asked to play for the National Soccer Academy, and she got the opportunity to go on a European Tour for players ages 10-17. That opportunity took her outside the U.S. to places such as Denmark and Sweden.
“It was an amazing experience,” Valdez said. “To be so young, it was very eye-opening, and that was the first taste of me realizing that soccer was something I thought I could do for the rest of my life.”
Valdez was raised in a military family and thus moved around a lot, and her next stop happened to be Paducah. Now back in Paducah after attending college at Arizona State University, it’s where she calls home.
“Aside from Hawaii, where we spent the most consecutive years of my life, Paducah is home for us,” she said. “It’s where I came back to raise my own daughter.”
During her high school years in Paducah, Valdez played soccer at Reidland and Lone Oak high schools. A multi-sport athlete, she also played softball and basketball.
“I had beautiful experiences at both places,” she said.
Earlier, at age 12, Valdez played for the Western Kentucky Futbol Club under Mike Minielli, who was instrumental in guiding her along the path to collegiate soccer. While she had a strong initial interest in playing at the University of Florida, the draw of returning to the state where she was born, Arizona, led her to ASU.
“I made the decision that I wanted to go back out west, and I got to visit the (ASU) campus, and I absolutely fell in love with it,” she said.
A pregnancy in her sophomore year at ASU put an end to her collegiate playing career after just one year. But she has since found a way to still be involved in the sport through coaching. She said her stint as an assistant girls soccer coach at Paducah Middle School “reinvigorated” her love for the purity of the game.
“I’ve always loved soccer, but as you get older and responsibility kicks in, it’s easy to lose sight of just how pure the game actually is,” she said. “Being around those girls and seeing their passion for the game develop and grow woke something up in me again.”
That led her to apply for the opening at the high school.
Upon getting the job, she met with some of the players and their parents, and she came away more excited than ever for her inaugural season.
“To be able to see the excitement in the girls’ eyes and all of the support from the parents has made this really exciting,” she said. “I could not be more impressed with the group of girls that I had in front of me. They all seem like really well-rounded girls who are so impressive academically, athletically and as people, and I’m really excited to get the opportunity to have a good season with them. To be able to get the opportunity to be a part of these girls’ lives and be in the middle of my first love all over again is amazing.”