By Pete Borello
If anyone had told a teenaged Dawn Hill that her future would include spending 17 years as varsity girls soccer coach at St. Francis High, she probably would have vehemently denied such a notion.
“I went to Lynbrook, and St. Francis was our biggest rival in soccer and volleyball,” the Cupertino native said. “I didn’t like St. Francis growing up.”
Hill – who resigned last month because her family is moving out of state – almost declined a job interview at St. Francis after earning her teaching degree from Santa Clara University.
“I told my dad that I didn’t know if I could work at St. Francis,” said Hill, who had applied to teach math and coach soccer at the school. “He convinced me to go interview, and I’m so thankful he encouraged me to take that step. It worked out perfectly.”
Her feelings about the school that handed her Lynbrook soccer team tough loss after tough loss changed dramatically once she stepped on campus for that interview in 2003.
“I fell in love with it,” she said. “I wanted to be part of a school community where not everyone leaves at 3, and the campus was packed at 4:30.”
Those feelings became mutual. Hill leaves St. Francis as one of its longest-tenured head coaches and among the most successful to wear the brown, white and gold.
“We cannot thank coach Hill enough for her leadership, passion and expertise that she brought to our program the past 17 years,” director of athletics Michael Pilawski said in a statement. “As a teacher and coach, she has been a tremendous role model and has had great success on and off the field. Her presence on our campus will be greatly missed. We wish her and her family much happiness as they embark on this next phase of their lives together.”
Hill has plenty of St. Francis memories to take with her to Boise, Idaho, the place her family will move to at the end of the school year because “we wanted change – a slower pace of life,” she said. In her 17 seasons leading the Lancers, they never missed the Central Coast Section playoffs and advanced beyond the quarterfinals 14 times. Seven of those teams made the finals, with four of them leaving the field as champions. In 2010, she was selected as the CCS Honor Coach for her sport.
Hill doesn’t coach for titles and accolades, however.
“It’s nice to win and have such great players, but the relationships are the reason I coach,” she said. “The relationships you build with students as a coach are different than as a classroom teacher, and I cherish that most.”
For Hill, nothing beats having lunch with a former player to catch up or simply exchanging a few text messages with them. The job is all about making a lasting impression.
“As a coach, you hope to be a positive role model,” she said.
Hill already knows what she will miss most about St. Francis: the players. She’s coached some great ones – including prolific scorer Annie Kingman (who played at the University of North Carolina) and shot-smothering goalie Courtney Ogren (Santa Clara University) – along with adept midfielders such as Kelly Jarvis and Sofia Jones, both part of CCS championship teams. Jones, now a standout at Santa Clara, played on Hill’s last title team – the 2018 squad that shut out Woodside in the DI final.
“Another thing I will miss besides the players is seeing the emotions during the big moments,” Hill said. “Some of the most fun memories are beating rivals and winning CCS, but losing is emotional, too. Seeing that joy or those tears can stay with you forever.”
Perhaps no game sticks in Hill’s mind more than the Lancers’ overtime loss to Mountain View in the 2016 CCS Open Division quarterfinals, a game decided on penalty kicks.
“We had a very good team that year, and they were a very tight group,” she said. “We sat there after what was a brutal way to end, and the seniors shared (their feelings) and there were tears. It was a really cool team moment, even though it came from a loss. It was one of my favorite team moments.”
Hill, who coached at Monta Vista High before coming to St. Francis, isn’t sure when she will have a chance to make more lasting memories like that one. Idaho plays its high school soccer season in the fall, so that’s out, but she does expect to walk the sideline again.
“I’m going to take a little break from head coaching; it takes a lot of energy to run a program,” said Hill, whose daughter will be entering junior high. “It would be fun to coach a JV or freshman team – something more low key. I’ll miss it if I don’t.”
Hill added that she promised her St. Francis players she would come back to watch them play a game or two next season. St. Francis recently named Carlos Barboza, Hill’s assistant coach the past two seasons, as her replacement.
“I think he will be great for the program,” she said. “I’m excited to see what he does.”