Cara Hergan's first day on the job went smoothly enough, with just a few noticeable stares and some soft murmurings.
Hergan, 22, wasn't quite sure how she would be received during yesterday morning's initial practice session for the North County High School boys soccer program. Surely, none of the athletes who gathered on the lower field behind the school were prepared for the news that awaited them from varsity head coach Steve Malone.
Gentlemen, meet your new junior varsity soccer coach.
"I think the guys were kind of shocked," said Hergan, a 1988 graduate of Andover High who played three years on the varsity girls soccer team. "I walked out and they all whispered, 'Is that our coach?' But they were very receptive to me."
She had prepared herself for the inevitable question -- the one sprung on every coach who works with a team comprised of members of the opposite sex.
"Someone said something about the locker rooms, but we already have that covered," she said, laughing. "I'll just yell in."
The Linthicum resident, who replaces Phil Solloway, is believed to be only the second female in the county to coach a boys team. Ann Wallace served as Annapolis' junior varsity wrestling coach during the 1983-1984 season.
"It was a learning experience for both sides," said Wallace, who works for the Washington-based Sports for Understanding international exchange program. "I'm sure they were a little surprised to see me walk out on the mat."
There were some surprised looks directed at Hergan yesterday, but the general reaction among the Knights was "normal," said sophomore Peter Merrill.
"She's a good coach. I don't think too many people will mind," he said.
"Nobody really said anything," said sophomore Chris Connolly. "It doesn't really matter if it's a man, a little boy -- as long as she can coach. It's just like taking orders from your mom."
Hergan's only previous coaching experience was with a couple of co-educational swim teams, including one in the Andover youth organization.
North County assistant Dan Krimmelbein observed Hergan working with the swimmers and recommended her for the junior varsity position.
"I've known Cara since she was a kid," said Krimmelbein, who coached Hergan for one season at Andover High.
"I've seen her coach, and she does a good job with the kids. She's had good participation, real good team spirit. I think she'll be able to handle the job."
Malone said, "Like anyone else, she has to come in and establish herself. And she won't have any problem doing that. I think [the players] will take to her. Most of them have had a female [physical education] teacher."
Hergan showed immediate interest in the job, never stopping to wonder if coaching a boys team would present unique problems.
"A position opened and they were like, 'Cara, what do you think about it?' I said, 'If you give me the opportunity, I'd love to do it.' I've always wanted to coach," she said.
"It's a little more in the limelight than I expected my first coaching job to be, but I think I'll adjust."
No one should question Hergan's athletic credentials. She played three sports at St. Mary's College, where she graduated this spring, and was named Female Athlete of the Year during her junior and senior years.
Still, she expects some of her colleagues to "look at me kind of strange."
"I'm sure some of the older coaches will be like, 'I don't want to lose to a woman,' " she said. "But I don't see it being a problem. This definitely is the beginning of my road to coaching for the rest of my life."
But does her future lie with a boys or girls team? "It doesn't really matter to me," she said.