Centennial girls soccer coach Rick Pizarro might not win a popularity contest among his own players, but his team won its first state championship with a perfect 16-0 record this season.
And Pizarro has won the Howard County Sun's nod as Coach of the Year.
His extensive knowledge and disciplinary approach certainly contributed to the Eagles' victory. The Eagles have had highly talented squads for years, but almost always have come out second-best to Oakland Mills, a team that had won five straight county titles.
This year, due at least in part to Pizarro, the team had the character to overcome Oakland Mills and go all the way.
Pizarro, 63, walked into ahighly unusual and what some coaches might consider uncomfortable situation at Centennial this season.
He replaced a warm, unusually vocal, down-to-earth and mobile coach -- Ray Mayrovitz, who died last winter following a fall on ice outside his home. Mayrovitz roamed farand wide along the sidelines during games, yelling instructions and encouragement until he was hoarse.
Mayrovitz, who was more of a pal than a disciplinarian, was so missed that the girls wore black ribbons around their calves in his memory and dedicated this season to him. They even asked for an extra state championship trophy to give to Mayrovitz's family.
Against that backdrop, enter Pizarro, whose manner is an almost 180-degree turn from Mayrovitz's style and personality.
Pizarro has a patrician air -- hard-edged, aristocratic and somewhat aloof. He stands on the sidelines in one place for long periods and gives quiet, sparse instructions. His face didn't display the visible excitement and the beaming smile after victories that characterized Mayrovitz. Not all his players appreciated the difference.
But Pizarro improved the Centennial squad in many ways. He worked on fundamentals such as tackling, throw-ins and heading -- skills that improved noticeably as the season progressed.
He worked out a system in which the midfield was much more involved and the scoring was more evenly distributed.
Seven girls became scoring threats. He worked hard to improve the scoring abilities of at least three of those girls.
"He taught them a lot," Oakland Mills coach Nancy Shea said."Pizarro did a good job of getting them together."
The team's motto, which it shouted after every huddle, was: "All the way together."
Without Pizarro, Centennial may not have made it all the way.
NOTE: SEE ALSO MAIN STORY (CENTENNIAL, HAMMOND TOP ALL-COUNTY TEAM)