LA JOYA — Rick Garza has coached soccer — the game he loves — for more than a decade. For years now, he’s been a fixture at La Joya Juarez-Lincoln, first as an assistant for the boys team and the head coach of the girls squad. Most recently, he’s introduced the game to his 4-year-old son.

But nothing, so far, has been able to match what Garza was able to build with the Juarez-Lincoln girls soccer program in recent years.

He’s steadily guided the girls team to new heights each and every year, ultimately leading to a 33-2 overall record this past season en route to being tabbed The Monitor’s All-Area Girls Soccer Coach of the Year in 2019.

Garza was able to parlay his success with the boys program at Juarez-Lincoln to the girls squad, which had previously never experienced that level of achievement. The Huskies’ boys soccer team has qualified for the playoffs in each of the 11 years since the school’s founding, in addition to tallying seven district championships — three in a row most recently — and one trip to the state final four.

“If you approach every game with the attitude that you’re going into it with everything that you have regardless of the opponent that you’re going to face, that’s going to prepare you for your whole season more than anything,” he said. “You know working with the boys program, we were able to take all the success we had there and take that expect to win attitude to our soccer program on the female side.”

Garza inherited a program that had never won a district title, let alone a playoff game, when he first came on board. He admits that it was tough in the beginning, but he quickly changed the culture of the program and turned the Huskies into a winning team right out of the gate.

“Any time you’re faced with a new obstacle, it’s always difficult at the beginning,” Garza said. “In my first year as a head coach with the girls soccer program, (we) were able to make it into the playoffs that first season. We didn’t have a lot of offense, but we had an excellent defense and a lot of confidence in our team.”

The Juarez-Lincoln girls squad continued to thrive under his leadership and reached a new high-water mark in 2019. Garza and the Huskies went 21-0 in non-district play to start the regular season.

Then they met their first big test playing against district-rival McAllen High and stumbled on the road as they were handed their first loss of the season. However, Garza’s team rebounded in a major way in a rematch on their home turf, topping the Bulldogs 1-0 and snapping McHi’s 50-game district winning streak that stretched back to March 2015, before any of his players were old enough to play high school soccer.

“McHi is a powerhouse here in the Rio Grande Valley when it comes to girls soccer. They’ve been well-known for many, many years,” Garza said. “That was one of my own personal goals going into that of our program. I wanted to change that type of culture when we faced a team like that, sometimes you would see defeat. That’s one thing we’ve strived to change within our program: if we want to be the best, then we’re going to have to go out there and beat the best.”

The Juarez-Lincoln girls followed up that monumental performance by recording their first-ever playoff win, and then adding two more playoff wins to advance all the way to the Sweet 16. Garza’s winning mentality and attention to detail with his players in practice are what has helped him lead the Huskies’ girls soccer program to new heights.

“Well, he’s a great coach because we are disciplined because of him. In practice, he just wants to do the stuff that we have to do in a game and we run every play in every practice,” said Stephanie Jimenez, a freshman on the Juarez-Lincoln soccer team and The Monitor’s recently tabbed All-Area Newcomer of the Year. “Coach Garza used to get mad at us because we talked too much in practice. So Coach goes inside and grabs his notebook, and then we run the plays that we have to do (in games).”

Juarez-Lincoln ultimately fell to Lake Travis, which later advanced to the state semifinals, in the Sweet 16 and narrowly missed out on its first district title, finishing just a single point behind rival McHi at the end of the season. But with virtually his entire team returning, Garza believes the Huskies can climb even higher next season.

“Our goals haven’t changed in the past few years. Our goal has always been to be district champions,” Garza said. “That’s one of our main goals going into this year: to be district champions. And another goal that we have is to be the Team of the Year for the entire Rio Grande Valley.”