Free State High's search for a girls soccer coach ended where it began -- with the hiring of Jason Pendleton.
The Journal-World has learned that Pendleton, who replaced Phil Lee as the boys coach, will assume the same role with the girls squad this spring.
Pendleton met with the girls team Monday and an official announcement is expected today.
"There was a pool of good candidates," FSHS athletics director Steve Grant said Monday, "but I received so many positive comments from the athletes, parents, opposing coaches and officials as to how well our boys are doing this year, that we think Jason is the best of the candidates.
"He's enthusiastic about it. He's ready to do it and he feels very good about it."
Pendleton, 29, initially was hired in June to replace Lee, who first dropped the boys position, then two weeks later bolted from the girls post and moved on to coach both sports at Topeka Seaman.
Pendleton, who's from Bakersfield, Calif., started the boys soccer program at Kansas City Wyandotte three years ago before joining the Firebirds.
"I'm extremely excited at the opportunity to build the entire Free State soccer program into a power," Pendleton said. "That's my objective."
Already this season, Free State's boys team has tied the team record for wins in a season with two -- both coming in the last week. In fact, the Firebirds nearly won three in a row for the first time ever, but bowed to Lawrence High in overtime last Wednesday.
Free State earned its first win of the season against Shawnee Mission West last Monday and pounded Junction City, 10-0, on Saturday.
Several boys soccer players showed their support for Pendleton by attending Monday's meeting and talking with the girls.
"It's been a lot different," FSHS senior Mike McQueeney said of the season. "Like Mr. Grant said at the meeting, it's been a 180-degree turn. We're a lot more disciplined, play more as a team. ... I think we know what we're doing more. We go out and we're not intimidated by teams.
"We always feel like we should be there and at least put up a fight if we don't win."
Free State's girls squad only has one win during its two-year tenure -- a 2-0 victory over Lawrence High last season -- but only lost three seniors from a year ago.
"What I know about the girls team is that they have a lot of girls who have good individual skills," Pendleton said, "a lot of girls who play at a high levels -- like club soccer and several girls played for ODP (Olympic Development Program).
"Talking to ODP coaches and other coaches in the area, they felt like that although young, they still have some talent. I found that pretty intriguing."
Grant said the Free State "interviewed several people" during the last three months since Lee's departure, but didn't see any need to bring in an outsider.
"The win-loss record is still not what everybody wants it to be, but there's so much improvement," Grant said. "The kids are playing harder and enjoying it. They have a great respect for him.
"I think as far as the whole atmosphere of the program, we've come a long way and feel pretty good about that."
-- Robert Sinclair's phone message number is 832-7185. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.