Rob Hill pulled into a parking space in front of Northwest College’s soccer practice field and chuckled. As the 44-year-old NWC interim head men’s and women’s coach stepped out of …
Rob Hill pulled into a parking space in front of Northwest College’s soccer practice field and chuckled. As the 44-year-old NWC interim head men’s and women’s coach stepped out of his Dodge Ram 1500 and paced toward the facility, his grin widened.
“It was just one of those things where I was like, ‘I’m back; here we go,’” Hill said.
Just a decade ago, Northwest soccer was nothing. The Trappers didn’t have a field, practiced on the far west side of town and had a team bus that broke down with almost every use.
Now — thanks in part to Hill’s leadership in past years — it’s a distinguished junior college program.
He was the first coach in program history, developing it from a club team to NJCAA program. During his tenure, the Trappers won the Region IX championship in 2011, won the NJCAA D1 West District championship the next year and were regional finalists three times.
After eight seasons in Powell, Hill left in 2017 to become the associate technical director for Idaho Rush, a youth soccer club in Boise. There, Hill was in charge of the girls’ soccer and worked as the college adviser for both the girls’ and boys’ programs, guiding the young athletes through the recruiting process.
But Hill returned to NWC and took over as the interim soccer coach in February, following the dismissal of former coach Aaron Miller. While he enjoyed his time in Idaho, the choice was easy for Hill when the NWC job opened up.
“This area has meant a lot to me — it’s that home feeling,” Hill said. “I wasn’t looking to move at the time, but when this all happened, coming back to family was a big one.”
Though Hill achieved great success in his first stint at Northwest, the coach is confident he is even better prepared for the role after a few years in Boise.
“I felt like I didn’t totally leave the college game because there’s lots of different new connections that I didn’t have prior to working here,” Hill said. “It was really rewarding and opened a lot of doors.”
Just like Hill is thrilled to be reunited with the program, the Trappers are glad to have him back after a tumultuous 17 months since they last took the pitch.
COVID-19 moved the 2020 fall season to spring 2021, extending the offseason by a few months. NWC then fired Miller, who had coached at the school since 2019, in February, just weeks before formal practices were set to begin. Prior to Hill’s arrival, NWC freshman boys’ soccer player Orlin Castro Hernandez described the program’s atmosphere as “divided.”
But just a few weeks into Hill’s second stint at Northwest, his leadership has comforted players on both teams.
“What has impressed me so far about Rob [Hill] is his personality and the type of person he is,” Hernandez said. “He’s very positive, seems very focused, communicates very well with everyone, which is super important for any team.”
Sophomore women’s soccer player Alexa Williams added that, “We, as a team, are super excited to have Coach Rob because he is extremely knowledgeable and he brings a lot for that knowledge to each of our practices.”
In the weeks between Miller’s firing and Hill’s hiring, athletic director Brian Erickson acted as the head coach of both teams. Players on both teams said they appreciated Erickson’s commitment and extra hours spent with the team during that stretch.
Even so, the athletic director thinks the players will be in better hands with Hill.
“Coach [Rob] Hill is very knowledgeable and knows how to teach the game at any level,” Erickson said. “Each practice, the intensity has risen and the student-athletes have responded very well.”
For both the women’s and men’s programs, Hill’s main goal is to steadily build them both up after a few subpar seasons.
NWC’s women’s soccer team played in a couple scrimmages in the fall, losing but competing in each friendly. The team brings back several key returners from the 2019 squad, making an experienced core of contributors.
“It’s going to be a side of managing their health and making sure they can compete,” Hill said. “I think with the core group of girls they’ve got, they can compete with some girls. I already feel a good connection with them but it’s important to build that program back to where it was before and to strengthen that program.”
On the men’s side, the team’s skill has stuck out to Hill in his first few weeks back. But an issue he’s noticed is how many different identities lie within the roster, which contributed to the division before Hill’s arrival.
If the team learns how to play together, Hill believes it can be a force in Region IX.
“There are a lot of different playing styles, so we’ll have to see if we can get a team that gels and learns to work together,” Hill said. “If they can do that, they can be a very very good team. It’s a big task, and it’s always a goal when you’re coaching the college team.”
The new-but-familiar era of NWC soccer begins Wednesday when the Trappers host Casper College at 1 p.m. (women) and 3 p.m. (men). Hill has already built the program once, and now that he’s back at the helm, NWC has high expectations of where it can go.
“Both soccer teams were at their highest level of success during the years Coach Hill was at NWC,” Erickson said. “I believe we are getting a high level coach that will demand excellence on the field, in the community and in the classroom.”