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'Rookie' Diaz named Region 6 Coach of the Year

Michael Jaenicke
Sports Editor

TEACHEY - Replacing a legendary coach is a tough act to follow. That's what Rodrigo Diaz did as a rookie soccer coach for Wallace-Rose Hill this year.

Expectations were high stepping in for Michael Graybar, who had led the Bulldogs to three 1A state titles and 20 or more wins in six of his nine seasons.

Yet Graybar's final two seasons (27-5-2 in 2017 and 12-8-2 in 2019) came in 2A with first-round playoff losses.

Diaz, a longtime player, referee and club coach, came into Teachey last spring, laid a foundation and forged a plan with a theme of redemption.

WRH went 20-5, nabbed a share of the ECC regular-season title and ended its campaign with a loss to Dixon, which would go on to claim the 2A state title.

It was the same Dixon club that Diaz and company handed its only loss earlier this season.

Diaz was rewarded for his work last Friday by being named Region 6 Coach of the Year by the North Carolina Soccer Coaches Association.

"We avenged a lot of losses from the past," Diaz said. "It was a long season and my colleagues know the battles I went through, and also what goes on for a first-year coach taking over for a successful coach.

"So I had big shoes to fill."

Diaz dug in during spring practices and put together a potent attack and solid defense, while also allowing players freedom.

The Bulldogs spun off six wins to open the season with a conquest of the Durham School of the Arts the biggest triumph.

 WRH then fell to Clinton 2-1 in its East Central opener and followed it up with a huge win over Spring Creek and a disappointing loss to 3A White Oak.

 Diaz danced as WRH won its next 11 matches, which included knocking off 3A Jacksonville, which made it to the region finals and, Dixon on consecutive days.

 WRH beat defending 2A champ Clinton 3-0 on Oct. 10 and then blew out a good Spring Creek club 5-1.

But tight losses to county rivals James Kenan and East Duplin cost WRH an outright crown. The ‘Dawgs shared it with the Gators and Tigers.

 WRH earned the No. 4 seed in the playoffs and beat Graham and Currituck in the first two rounds before falling to red-hot Dixon club 5-1.

Whipping the Cardinals on Sept 25 in Jacksonville started the firecracker season. “They didn’t take us seriously and I made some changes that I thought could cost us a goal,” Diaz said. “They did but we battled through it and got to the other side in better shape because of it.”

Diaz said he and his players also made peace with the “whole Graybar thing.”

“Our players wanted to prove they were good players not just Graybar’s boys. They wanted to prove they were good. They wanted to restore the tradition.

“We lost a lot of talent in our senior class. But this program is solid.”