Talk to Victoria Camera for 15 minutes, and you would swear you are talking to a 25-year head coach rather than a 25-year-old.
She comes off, in a very positive way, as a young woman with the wisdom of an old soul.
The 2011 Hamilton High West graduate was named head coach of the successful Notre Dame High girls’ varsity soccer program late last spring, after paying her dues as an assistant at ND in 2015 and at West last fall. She also coached club soccer while still playing for Rowan University, and trained the Bordentown U-10 travel team after graduating.
That may not be a lifetime’s worth of experience, but listening to Camera, it is obvious she has soaked up a wealth of knowledge from every stop she has made.
Take for instance, what she took from her first two years as high school assistant.
“There’s a lot more to it than winning a soccer game,” Camera said. “It’s the impression you leave on the girls and the time you devote to the team and how the girls view you as a role model and a person. It’s staying after and helping them. Being someone they could talk to, so if they listen to you all practice and don’t really know what to do, and how to take that information and demonstrate it on the field, you can be that person to show them that.
“It’s how much more you’re willing to give instead of just being their coach. What’s that truly mean? What is the true definition of a coach? I really want to broaden that term and give it all my best. I’m 100 percent into what I’m giving. So I think those first two years showed me that I need to give it my all.”
And then there is the age-old adage that preparation means everything in athletics, particularly for the coach. When going from assistant to head woman, there becomes a plethora of added chores—from paper work to dealing with parents and weighing in on scheduling, to name a few.
Camera spends good amounts of time in athletic director Rich Roche’s office to see what needs to be done.
“I love to stay on top of it,” she said. “If your players see you’re not focused, not organized, not mentally there, it’s like, ‘Why is she even there?’ So it all goes back to leading, and setting a good example for these girls.”
Camera is young enough to relate to her players, but realizes there is a fine line between being a friend at the expense of being their coach. Once again, she has an answer, which she has cultivated through numerous interviews for teaching jobs.
“They always ask, ‘How are you gonna draw that line between teacher and student?” Camera said. “The same goes with coaches and players. I’m extremely aware with what’s going on. I would be silly to ruin everything I have by going over that line.
“I’m strictly professional when it comes to coaching and teaching. My plan is to set myself up for success. I would never want to ruin any of that. Whatever it takes to draw that line, it’s certainly going to be set. I’m enjoying the ride, I’m trying to have everything set up for success. I would never want to set myself up for failure. I have my whole life to do this, and I might as well start out on the right path, right?”
‘She was a big part of when we made that big run two years ago; she’s just really good with kids.’
It appears that Camera has a pretty good handle on things before she has even coached her first varsity game.
“I like to think so,” she said with a laugh.
One person who definitely thinks so is the man she is replacing. Ken Mason gave up the ND job after two years to become the West Windsor-Plainsboro schools’ athletic director. Camera became a valuable assistant in Mason’s first year, when the Irish reached the NJSIAA Non-Public A championship game.
Fresh out of college, Camera answered an online ad for the Irish vacancy. Roche informed her they had hired Mason, but that he would like to talk to her about an assistant’s job. She first met with Mason, who was immediately impressed for several reasons. She was young and could bring some new drills to training, and she was a female, which could help her relate to the players in a way a man might not be able to. Once Roche approved it, Camera was on board.
When Mason stepped down, he recommended Camera as his replacement. And while Camera feels she knows where to draw the line between getting too friendly and being their coach, Mason feels her personality lets her naturally get along with them.
“She was a big part of when we made that big run two years ago; she’s just really good with kids,” Mason said. “She’s really good with drills being not that far removed from Rowan. She played at a high level there, she was one of the best players they had. She’s a teacher so she can relate to the kids, break down the drills; and she’s young enough they can talk to her about other issues, which is really important.”
Camera’s style is more cerebral than authoritarian. She is a student of the game and gets her point across in a calm manner.
“She’s not a yeller or screamer but those girls know if they’re late for practice or don’t do the drills how Vic wants them done, they’re gonna pay the price,” Mason said. “She’s into physical fitness, she’s in good shape, and I’m sure the girls will be in good shape physically as well. She’s also a very good tactician. When we had issues with our lineup, I would lean on her to adjust on the fly. I know she’s not going to have any problems with game management. And she’s got her assistants coming back, they’re veterans, so that will be huge.”
Unable to land a fulltime teaching job at Notre Dame, Camera returned to her alma mater last year as freshman coach and endured a season quite different than in 2015 as Hamilton struggled greatly. Camera was familiar with the girls’ soccer issues having played at West. It was going to be vastly different than at Notre Dame, but she looked upon it as an opportunity to grow as a coach.
“I learned that nothing means more than to be there as a person for these girls,” she said. “If you can get a group of girls that love the game and just truly want to learn and get better as an individual, nothing beats that. Last year was definitely a change of pace, but I was able to coach in a different way.
“Yeah, wins are nice and I would have liked to have had that, but I was at the freshman level mostly. I was essentially developing these girls that were a step behind a Notre Dame and Hopewell program and all these other programs because we don’t have middle school sports. So I have to take a few steps back and sort of change my style. I wanted to do things with these girls where they would learn and enjoy this learning, where they won’t be frustrated with their play, day after day, loss after loss.”
None of that was lost on Roche, who was impressed with Camera as a person and took heed to Mason’s recommendation. After Camera was hired, she was able to have one team meeting with her returning players before the year was out and then signed Notre Dame up for The College of New Jersey’s summer league for the first time. With seven seniors and several experienced underclassmen returning from an 18-4-3 team that reached the South Jersey Non-Public A finals, the coach was happy with the Irish’s effort at TCNJ.
“It’s a really strong core group,” Camera said. “I really like these girls, I knew them when I coached them two years ago, I know how they play. We are going to be fairly young again, but playing in the TCNJ league truly helps the team’s camaraderie, just by playing together, getting chemistry. Some of these girls are incoming sophomores and never played at the varsity level, so they’re just getting to know their teammates a little more. We are going to be a fairly young team, but I think the girls already playing together in some type of way has helped tremendously.”
Camera, who got a full-time teaching job at Grice Middle School for the upcoming year, could not really comment on the style she wants to play until after tryouts were completed. One thing is certain, however. She is doing exactly what she wants to do as a teacher and coach.
“I certainly did want to coach and I saw it in my future,” Camera said. “Did I see it happening now, my third year out of college? No. But I wasn’t gonna pass up an opportunity like this one, especially since I was there before with Ken and already had a little advantage knowing the girls, knowing the program. I had to pounce on that opportunity.”
It was a goal she had as soon as her playing career ended at Rowan.
“It’s a weird feeling, being done playing,” Camera said. “It’s like something you can’t really explain. But when I found out I could coach and turn my passion of playing into coaching and I could help out girls who were in my shoes, I was like ‘Wow, this is wonderful.’ So it’s great, it’s like playing, except there are people playing for you.”