Pending school board approval at Monday night's meeting, Sydney Heckel will become the new head boys soccer coach at Belgrade High. Heckel is a 2010 alumni and helped the girls team win the Class A state championship in 2007.
Heckel is believed to be the first-ever woman to coach a boys team at the Class AA level in Montana, but has experience coaching a pair of boys programs in Las Vegas.
“She understands the work that goes into everything that’s involved in athletics,” Belgrade Activities Director Rick Phillips said. “I’m certainly thrilled to death to be able to offer her the position and have her be part of our program.”
Heckel was actually offered the girls job a year ago after Celine Valentin stepped down following four very successful seasons at the helm. Heckel wasn’t able to find a job within the school district, however, and had to turn it down.
Carl Bridwell, who had served as an assistant for Valentin, was hired as head coach and guided the Panthers to a 2-8-3 record in the program’s first season as a AA program.
“We’re always trying to get the best qualified candidates that we have and last year she was one our of top candidates for the girls program. Obviously, didn’t work out and Carl stepped in and did a fantastic job,” said Phillips. “Now that we have an opportunity to bring her back and still offer a good quality coach to our soccer program, we’re very thrilled that we have this opportunity to get her back.”
Heckel has since found a job in the district, which allows for the opportunity to coach at her alma mater.
“I did get the girls position, but didn’t get a position in the school. So it was impossible for me to work a separate 9 to 5 job and coach,” she said. “So now I’m working at Saddle Peak Elementary School as their behavior interventionist, so it’s easy for me to go to practices now and go to games and things like that.”
Heckel was a defenseman on the 2007 team that posted a 14-0-1 record en route to winning a second State A title in three years. It remains the only unbeaten season in program history.
Following college, Heckel spent three years coaching cross country, boys basketball and boys soccer at a charter school, Pinecrest Academy, in Las Vegas.
“Coaching boys was honestly the only coaching experience I’ve had. So when I coached basketball and soccer down in Vegas, I was the boys coach for both,” Heckel said. “It’s honestly easy just because that’s all I’ve done and that’s all I’m familiar with. So I know I can hit the ground running and make a successful team.”
The 2017 soccer team was a first-year program, and Heckel was welcomed as head coach by the boys.
“They loved me. I honestly had about 20 basketball boys and soccer boys who wouldn’t play for anyone else,” said Heckel. “I had no negatives, like comments about me being a female coaching boys from parents or spectators.”
Belgrade’s program, which began in 2003, became a powerhouse in Class A under longtime coach Ric Plante. The Panthers reached four consecutive state championship matches and won back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017.
Plante retired following the 2018 campaign after Belgrade reached the state semifinals, and then Jeff DeBuse stepped down after one season at the helm following a 0-13-0 campaign a year ago.
Heckel takes over a young program and knows a difficult road lies ahead as Belgrade prepares for its second season in AA.
“I know how much work it takes and I know how much dedication to the sport and to the game that it takes,” she said. “I’m all for it. I’m ready to rebuild and make the kids successful again.”