Coby King sat in the City Section girls’ soccer coaches’ meeting at Hamilton High in October and found himself the butt of several jokes. Enduring sarcastic remarks was an unfamiliar feeling for King, the boys’ varsity soccer assistant at Birmingham High of Lake Balboa, who was filling in for girls’ junior varsity coach Jessica Knapcik. Having three coaches in as many years gives a program that type of reputation. So, too, does winning only one game in the 2005-06 season. Freshman Jennifer Venegas was determined not to be part of such a woeful tradition. Venegas believed the burden of coaching the junior varsity and varsity teams would be too much for Knapcik. So, she reached out to her former club coach Ed Verdugo. “I asked him if he wanted to coach, and at first he thought I was kidding,” Venegas said. “I said, `No, I’m serious.’ We didn’t have a coach, and the girls were to the point where they were desperate. I was just giving them some hope.” The result has been the biggest turnaround of any girls’ soccer program in the area. The Patriots were the reigning City boys’ champions and held in the highest regard by coaches throughout the section. But he quickly learned that being associated with Birmingham’s girls’ program elicited the opposite reaction. “They asked if I got stuck coaching the girls,” said King, a Hart of Newhall graduate. Once the forgotten team in the West Valley League, 12th-seeded Birmingham (12-6-3) has put together an unforgettable year, which continues today with a second-round playoff match at No. 5 San Pedro (17-7). “Jen said to me, `I don’t want to be the worst team in the City,”‘ Verdugo said. “And I said, `Neither do I.’ “I didn’t come here to throw out the balls and watch (the girls) kick them around.” One of the toughest challenges for Verdugo was balancing his soccer schedule with working the graveyard shift as a bottler at the Anheuser Busch brewery. He also wanted to support his daughter Leah, who plays soccer at Granada Hills. Once he developed a routine, positive results soon followed. With Verdugo handling the tactical aspects, Knapcik taking care of the administrative duties and Hugo Monterrosa coaching the JV team, girls’ soccer is no longer an afterthought at Birmingham. “I can’t even put into words how much they’ve helped me out,” said Knapcik, who ran the entire program after former coach Christa Migas left for Northridge Academy. “I don’t have much background in (soccer), and that’s why I coached JV, and I did fine with that. But I needed help and (Ed) wanted to help. It was a great balance.” Juniors Stephanie Cubias and Charleye Schneiderman provided leadership, sophomore Vanessa Carr made an impact moving up from JV, and Venegas, Estela Hernandez and Daisy Alvarenga gave the Patriots much-needed depth. “I saw the talent,” Knapcik said. “I knew we could be a phenomenal team if we had the correct coaching style.” After beating only Van Nuys last season, it took just onegame for Birmingham to match last season’s win total, defeating Marshall of Los Feliz. “After the first game, it took a lot off my shoulders,” Venegas said. “I brought Ed all the way out here and I didn’t want to disappoint him.” The Patriots added victories over North Hollywood, Taft of Woodland Hills and Chatsworth twice. They also tied Granada Hills, a City finalist last year. “They always wanted to compete with those teams,” Verdugo said. “I think they just wanted to be challenged. They wanted me to show them a system and point them in the right direction. “But Jessica has been the heart and soul of this team. She kept the team together for twomonths. Without her, there wouldn’t be a team.” As a result, Cubias’ experience has been a far cry from her first two seasons. “The desire to win kept me going,” she said. “I knew we had something to prove.” If Thursday’s 2-1 win over Palisades of Pacific Palisades is any indication, the Patriots are up for the challenge. “It’s been a complete turnaround, a complete change in the way of thinking,” Cubias said. Said Verdugo: “As far as I’m concerned, the story is not finished, it’s just beginning.” And with several talented underclassmen on the roster, Knapcik is looking forward to next year’s coaches meeting. “I almost want to laugh back at those teams,” she said. “These girls have stuck with it and they’ve made it happen and I’m so proud of them. We’re not a laughingstock anymore.” [email protected] (818) 713-3607 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!