Killian McHugh wants to make Los Altos High girls soccer great again.
“I want to build up the program and hopefully get it in a far better place than we are now,” said the team’s new varsity coach.
Not that the Eagles are in a bad place. Los Altos is defending champion of the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League El Camino Division – which it won with an 11-1 record – and finished 14-6-2 overall after losing to Woodside in the Central Coast Section Division I quarterfinals last February.
That goes down as Los Altos’ best season since 2013, when it claimed the CCS Division II championship.
“I can’t guarantee we’ll win CCS (next season),” said McHugh, hired last month to replace Eric Madrigal, who stepped down after his second year as coach, “but we’ll do better than we’ve done in recent seasons.”
It won't be easy, though. The Eagles have been promoted to the SCVAL De Anza Division, ruled by rival Mountain View in recent years and featuring powerhouse Palo Alto as well. Los Altos also lost eight players to graduation, including leading scorer Hannah Wendelken and team MVP Emily Pye.
However, McHugh is excited about the girls coming up from junior varsity. The Los Altos resident knows them well – he coached the team last season.
“We had a phenomenal season and hope to build on that,” McHugh said.
In his first year as JV coach, McHugh guided the squad to an undefeated record (11-0-1) in the El Camino Division. The Eagles scored a whopping 53 goals in league and allowed just six.
The Irish-born coach said Los Altos won with a team effort – all 20 girls played – and through “clean sheets (shutouts), not conceding and building from the back.”
McHugh added that he wants the varsity team to play a similar style.
“We want to build from the back and play defensive (soccer) with counterattacks,” he said. “We want to keep our defensive shape, communicate out there and play with our heads up.”
McHugh, a corporate communications specialist by trade who has worked for Hewlett-Packard Co. and LinkedIn Corp., won over new athletic director Michelle Bokamper Noeth when he stopped by her office July 12 to apply for the job.
“He came off as being passionate about soccer and wanting his student-athletes to be successful on and off the field,” she said. “He wants to promote the program in a positive light.”
Noeth added that Los Altos High Principal Wynne Satterwhite “felt comfortable with him, too,” and now-retired athletic director Kim Cave recommended him for the job.
“He’s very knowledgeable and very dedicated,” said Cave, who hired McHugh as JV coach last year. “I think he’s going to be great.”
McHugh, who grew up playing soccer and rugby in Ireland, coached the former for three years before coming to the U.S. 10 years ago. He recently earned his United States Soccer Federation National D coaching license after completing a training course in San Diego.
“I was fortunate to have great coaches through high school and university, and I want to pay it forward,” said McHugh, who stepped away from the corporate world after his wife gave birth to their daughter last year. “Los Altos is my home, and I’m passionate about the city and making it better. This is a way to give back to the community.”