Santana from New London brings energy and enthusiasm to her first job as a college coach

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Connecticut College assistant women’s soccer coach Mia Santana leads halftime warmups during last Wednesday’s game against the Coast Guard. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day) Buy Photo Reprints
Connecticut College women’s soccer assistant coach Mia Santana, center, speaks with volunteer coach Rob Brule, left, during last Wednesday’s game against the Coast Guard. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day) Buy Photo Reprints

New London – When Norm Riker began his search for a full-time assistant coach for his Connecticut College women’s soccer program, Mia Santana quickly emerged as a strong candidate.

Riker already knew Santana, who played for him and had coaching experience at the club level.

Watching Santana interact with the Camels during a practice session in April as part of the interview process convinced Riker to offer the former Camel the job.

“She has great energy, a great presence on the field and also a great voice as a coach,” said Riker, who has mentored Conn since 2011. “She grabs your attention without yelling and really gets a player’s attention. That became apparent when she led her session here for the players during the interview process.

“…No offense to the other candidates, no one did that.”

Santana joined the program in May and is now five games into her college coaching career.

Looking back, Santana admits that he wasn’t as great as he seemed that day on the practice field.

“I was terrified,” she said between laughs. “But, as soon as I got there, I felt very comfortable. I think the introduction part was the hardest part, just talking to them and trying to sound as mature and professional as possible. As soon as the session started, it was fun.”

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Santana is a local success story.

Born and raised in the area, Santana attended schools in New London, played club soccer for the Southeast, and then continued on to Conn where she graduated in 2020. She majored in human development.

Forging a connection with her hometown community is important to Santana.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “I think being able to continue living in New London and being so close to my family has been very nice. I try to contact my former players in the southeast asking them to come see a game. I’ll wear my Conn gear and go to the Stop & Shop and someone will stop me: ‘Hey, I’d like to go to the game. You are also from New London.

“Those conversations, it’s been really nice connecting with New London because they know I’m from here and I work here too, so it brings more of the New London community to the Connecticut College campus, which I always strive for. I want us to be as connected as possible.”

Santana found his joy in coaching soccer camps at Conn College and in Waterford at the Connecticut Coast Camp.

By her third year in college, Santana’s interest had grown to the point that she decided to pursue a career as a coach.

“I love working with younger kids,” he said. “I wanted to be a teacher. What I learned is that coaching is a lot like teaching and I get to do the sport that I love every day, so that’s what really pushed me into the coaching business.”

Santana received a soccer education playing for Riker and coaching at Southeast Soccer after graduating from college.

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Southwest’s Tom Butler has had a huge impact on her.

“It was amazing working with him,” Santana said. “Everything is so organized with him. He has a great relationship with the players. … It inspired me a lot.”

At Conn College, Santana is an interesting position, coaching a team that has five of his former teammates on the roster.

Riker never worried that Santana might have trouble bridging the gap from player to coach and also from teammate to coach.

Santana has learned how to handle the potentially awkward situation.

“It has its ups and downs,” he said. “Being so close in age, I can relate more and I can create good relationships with them. But at the same time, that respect, I feel like it took a while just because I was so close in age to them and they need to know, yeah, I graduated two or three years ago, but I’m their coach. now and you’re going to have to respect me that way.

“I am learning every day.”

Nearly every day Santana is reminded that she is a freshman in the college coaching ranks.

He quickly discovered that his new job is very demanding and time consuming. Unlike her player days, when she could just go home after a game, she returns to the office with Riker to break down the film, start looking for the next opponent, and deal with the problem of the day.

But she loves every aspect of her job, even the recruiting routine.

His ability to easily adapt to technology is a plus, saving Riker valuable time and frustration.

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She is also comfortable navigating the world of social media. And recruits are encouraged to talk to someone closer to their age.

“We’re getting a cool factor that we didn’t have before,” Riker said.

Riker is passing on his wisdom and vast knowledge as a trainer to Santana, who is the only full-time assistant on staff.

“I’m learning a lot from him,” Santana said.

Teaching could be in your future in the future. But right now his focus is on training.

“There is no better compliment as a person than as a coach when one of your former players tells you: ‘Coach, I want to work with you.’ Ricker said. “I am very proud of that. That is the best compliment of all.”

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