Southridge athletic director Tim Wood was hoping for a quiet summer. He might be able to pencil in a day or two off now that he’s filled the school’s four vacant coaching positions.
Aaron Sonnichsen will be the Suns’ head football coach, while Emma Sanders will coach girls soccer, Derrek Lete girls basketball and Randy Willis takes over the girls swim program.
Sonnichsen takes over for Keith Munson, whose teaching contract was not renewed after one year.
Being a head coach was not on the front burner for the former Prosser quarterback, but after a little soul searching and a prod from his wife, Amy, he submitted his application.
“I had not been thinking about being a head coach,” he said. “It kind of got thrown in my lap. A guy at church suggested I should apply. I talked to the AD about a teaching position and things fell into place. My wife said I needed to get out of my comfort zone, and this was my chance.”
Sonnichsen grew up in Prosser, playing for the legendary Tom Moore. He then played football at Pacific Lutheran University under another iconic coach, Frosty Westering, and has served as an assistant coach at Prosser the past eight seasons.
“I talked to my brother Benji, who is the head coach at Mead, and asked him if it was something I could do,” Sonnichsen said. “Talking to some other people, some of my mentors, they were supportive. Between Tom Moore, Frosty and my brother, I have seen good things. They have created who I am as a coach. I am excited to bring that to Southridge.”
Sonnichsen met with Southridge players, parents and members of the football staff Thursday night. He will retain five of Munson’s assistant coaches, which will help the transition.
“It wasn’t as great a turnout as I would have liked, but it was last minute,” he said. “People already had commitments. You take what you can get. I was impressed with the seniors who were there. It’s a setback for them, and not what they wanted. A lot of the seniors had a great relationship with Coach Munson, but he isn’t there and it’s not their fault or my fault. We have to move forward.
“Almost all of the assistant coaches stepped down, but there are five who want to come back. It’s nice to have them. They know the ins and outs of the school. There are others I’m hoping to try and bring back. Those five guys who came last night, it was nice to have that support as the new guy coming in.”
Sonnichsen, a 1994 Prosser graduate, will teach physical science and biology. He taught the past eight years at Prosser High School, and taught in China for eight years before returning to the United States.
Lete takes over for Mike Connors, who now is the head boys coach at Tri-Cities Prep. The Suns were 7-7 in Mid-Columbia Conference play last season and 10-9 overall.
Lete comes to Southridge from Umatilla High School, where he took the Vikings boys to the state playoffs the past four years. Before landing in Umatilla, he was the head girls coach at Echo (Ore.) High School for three years.
“The hardest thing is leaving,” Lete said of the Umatilla boys. “Before I got there, they had only won two games the year before. We lost in the Round of 16 this year to Horizon Christian. We only graduated one starter and there are a lot of returning players. They will be in good hands. It was hard to tell the boys. It wasn’t an easy decision, for sure.”
Lete will teach special education at Southridge.
“They had a teaching job and the girls basketball job was open,” Lete said. “It was a great opportunity. I had heard great things about the Kennewick School District.”
Though he hasn’t coached girls basketball for several years, he said he enjoyed it.
“I do have some patience,” he said. “I enjoyed coaching at Echo. I am big into relationships within the team and it is easier to build relationships coaching girls.”
Lete’s wife, Kylee, will commute to Umatilla for the upcoming school year, where she is a middle school math teacher.
Willis, who retired from coaching at Richland and Hanford last year, jumps back into the pool at Southridge.
“I guess secrets don’t last very long,” said Willis, who replaces Jason Hart. “Southridge needed a coach and swimming coaches are not plentiful, so I thought I’d do it.”
Willis spent more than 20 years working with the Bombers and Falcons, but when Hanford jumped up to 4A, the programs became competitors and he could not bring himself to choose sides.
“I hadn’t planned on stopping coaching when I did, but I refused to choose a team,” Willis said. “When you are that invested in the schools and the girls, you can’t. I decided to go instead of facing that.”
A co-owner of Columbia Basin Racquet Club, Willis will just be coaching at Southridge.
“There is a passion there,” he said. “Coaching is a lot of fun, and there are a lot of rewards with that. We will get things going and see what we can do to build the program and get girls wanting to swim at Southridge.”
Sanders returns to her roots at Southridge, where she was a four-year starter for the Suns and was named to the all-state second team in 2012 and 2013.
Sanders, 22, replaces Greg Sambrano, who stepped down after last season.
“As a former Southridge soccer player, I have stayed connected to the program,” Sanders said via email. “When I heard that Greg Sambrano resigned, I was immediately interested in the position. The timing could not have been any better. After graduating from college, I was seeking opportunities that enabled me to inspire and impact others. As a collegiate athlete, I was exposed to the dynamics of coaching at a higher level.”
Sanders, whose dad Tim is the Suns baseball coach, said Southridge is like a second home to her.
“My dad started coaching at Southridge the year I was born,” Sanders said. “Because of these roots, I feel I can closely relate to the culture and athletes at Southridge. I am very appreciative and thankful for how Southridge helped shape me. I only hope I can have the same impact my coaches, teachers and mentors had on me.”
She went on to play four years at Willamette University, where she majored in exercise science. A three-year team captain, she was honorable mention All-NWC and Willamette Rookie of the Year in 2013. She earned second-team NWC honors her senior year.
Sanders will balance coaching and working with Kirk Holle at Columbia Physical Therapy.
“I love helping patients through their rehabilitation,” she said. “I truly enjoy motivating and encouraging patients in a fun and comfortable environment. I am excited to bring my knowledge and enthusiasm for injury management and athletic training to Southridge’s soccer program.”