Knoxville has given Mariana Diaz Lopez a lot of opportunities.
Now the former NCAA Division II soccer player is in a position to “give back” to the community she says has always embraced her.
Diaz, who was a five-year women’s soccer captain at Lincoln Memorial University, has been hired as Pellissippi State Community College’s first-ever head women’s soccer coach. The college announced in November that it is adding competitive athletics starting in fall 2023, after it was accepted into the National Junior College Athletic Association in October.
“I have a love for developing players by enhancing the fundamentals of the game,” said Diaz, who most recently served as an assistant women’s soccer coach at LMU and will graduate with her master of business administration in May. “I bring experience in creating training plans. I believe that challenging and improving single players will ultimately lead to team success.”
Diaz was born in Mexico, but grew up in Knoxville and graduated from Halls High School in 2017. Although she has been playing soccer “ever since I can remember” and played two years for her high school team, it was her mentor Dave Goldschmidt and her time at his Inter Futbol Academy that helped Diaz turn soccer into her ticket to college.
“My mom is a single mom, so I didn’t have a father figure,” Diaz explained. “When I came to Dave at IFA at 15, he made me into a college athlete. He taught me that you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to become a good soccer player, and I want to create that environment here.”
That’s one of the things that drew Diaz to the coaching position at Pellissippi State: the opportunity to reach out to local girls who want to continue playing soccer after high school but aren’t ready to jump straight to a four-year university.
“Pellissippi State can help students academically and financially,” Diaz said. “Our in-state students can take advantage of Tennessee Promise, which saves so much money on your first two years of college, and we can focus on developing our student-athletes for their next step, wherever they want to go. Being able to provide an experience that gives players tools that go beyond the pitch will be the key to building a successful program.”
Diaz plans to add some international players to her roster as well to diversify the team.
“I was always around international students as a soccer player at LMU and having international teammates helped give me a global perspective,” she said.
“Mariana is an exciting coach with experience in NCAA Division II Soccer,” said Pellissippi State Athletics DirectorBrock Evans. “She will bring a passionate and distinctive brand of soccer to the pitch. Mariana has a great proficiency in coaching the technical side of the game, and she will be able to develop a high-level technical team with a drive to compete at the highest level.”
Diaz also will be serving Pellissippi State as a student success coordinator in the college’s Stay Strong Success Center, which helps students navigate the many transitions and challenges they may encounter during their college experience. She will focus on areas such as academic planning, study skills and cultivating a sense of belonging.
“This will be a big piece of connecting athletes to academics and building a Panther Nation,” she said.
Diaz already has 18 games scheduled for fall 2023 – 10 in the National Junior College Athletic Association, two against other two-year schools and six against four-year schools, she said – and now is recruiting student athletes. Those who are interested in playing soccer for Pellissippi State should fill out the interest form on the College’s Athletics webpage, www.pstcc.edu/athletics, or email Diaz at [email protected] to find out more about an identification camp she is planning for Sunday, May 21.
“I’m looking for kids with great character who want to embrace the opportunity to start at Pellissippi State, who see this as a time of growth and are ready to work hard,” Diaz said. “We’re going to give them the development they can’t get anywhere else.”
Lesli Bales-Sherrod does marketing and writing for Pellissippi State Community College.