All Saints’ Diaz leading Pellissippi soccer team

She’s ‘grateful for the opportunity’ as she becomes the first head coach for the new college program

By Dan McWilliams

Mariana Diaz Lopez of All Saints Parish in Knoxville is making an impact in local sports as the first women’s soccer head coach at Pellissippi State Community College as the school launches an athletics program this fall.

Ms. Diaz played Division II soccer at Lincoln Memorial University and was a five-year captain there. She most recently served as an assistant women’s soccer coach at LMU and graduated with a master’s degree in business administration in May.

She describes her selection as the Pellissippi coach as a “blessing.”

“I am very grateful for the opportunity to lead and design this program and to have the support of our administration,” she said. “This project is going to elevate and diversify the collegiate experience for all student athletes in our community. I am so excited for the future, and I am so motivated to work day to day to construct an empowering and elevating culture for our student athletes.”

Pellissippi State announced last November that it is adding competitive athletics. The school also has men’s soccer, women’s volleyball, men’s golf, and men’s and women’s cross country and half-marathon teams.

“Mariana is an exciting coach with experience in NCAA Division II soccer,” said Pellissippi State athletics director Brock Evans. “She will bring a passionate and distinctive brand of soccer to the pitch. Mariana has a great proficiency in coaching the technical side of the game, and she will be able to develop a high-level technical team with a drive to compete at the highest level.”

Pellissippi was accepted into the National Junior College Athletic Association in October 2022.

“I think as a JUCO program we have the responsibility to help develop our student athletes at the individual level in a holistic approach,” Ms. Diaz said. “This means creating an environment where the individual is challenged to be the best version of themselves in the classroom, field, weight room, and in the community, to be able to propel them to their next steps in their career. I believe that this is the school’s mission as well, so being able to adopt those core principles to how I want to evolve our program just goes hand in hand.”

Her first Panthers team has 23 players on the roster with “a bit of diversity on the squad,” Ms. Diaz said.

“We are made up of mostly local Knoxville players. Some are Mexican American. We have a player from South Korea and three players from California,” she said. “I am from Mexico, and I am fortunate to have a handful who speak Spanish, which elevates the mix. We are very happy with the direction of the program and the buy-in from our players. We are growing day to day. The girls have embraced themselves and this opportunity.”

In a recent Pellissippi State news release, Ms. Diaz said she is “looking for kids with great character who want to embrace the opportunity to start at Pellissippi State, who see this as a time of growth and are ready to work hard.”

“Good people—it’s the key to success,” she said. “Being in an environment with people who have desire and accountability will create grit and a strong team. This opportunity and this program will embrace character.”

Ms. Diaz is a lifelong soccer player who grew up in Knoxville and in 2017 graduated from Halls High School, where she played for the Lady Red Devils soccer team for two years. At age 15, she spent time at Dave Goldschmitt’s Inter Futbol Academy.

“I am very passionate. I think that’s something that the girls saw from day one. I love the game. I love the dynamic of teamwork,” she said. “Dave Goldschmitt is my mentor, my coach. He lit that fire in me to pursue this passion to the level that I did. And I have never looked back.”

Ms. Diaz also serves as a student success coordinator in Pellissippi’s Stay Strong Success Center, which helps students navigate the many transitions and challenges they may encounter during their college experience. She will focus on areas such as academic planning, study skills, and cultivating a sense of belonging.

“I am a student success coach, which is an awesome part of this job,” she said. “We get to connect and guide students through their collegiate careers at the academic level. I think this part of the job strengthens our athletic department because we are reinforcing academic excellence and accountability. We have also been able to connect with so many great people in our college, and it has given us the insight of all the amazing support this institution has for all students.”

Ms. Diaz’s mother, Alicia, of All Saints Parish is a widow who raised Mariana and her half-brother, Erik.

“My mom is my hero, my rock, and my biggest supporter,” Ms. Diaz said. “She’s a warrior who has raised my brother and me. She exemplifies grit and encourages me to chase after my goals. ‘Get up and go again’—she showed me that falling down is an opportunity of strength. Soccer has been that you go again and again—you have to have personality and commitment to play this beautiful game. God has put amazing people in my life, and my mom has always encouraged me to do everything to its full capacity. Any opportunity I got in soccer is because of grit and full commitment because, as she says, if you are going to do something, you never do it halfway. I fulfilled my collegiate career with no regrets, nothing done halfway.”

Ms. Diaz and her mother joined All Saints Parish in 2012. The soccer coach has fond memories of former All Saints associate pastor Father Miguel Vélez, now pastor of St. Patrick in Morristown.

“My faith is why I am here today, in the position that I am in,” Ms. Diaz said. “God has put people in my life who I am just so grateful for. He has opened so many doors for me—everything is in His time. When I turned 15, Padre Miguel led my quinceañera ceremony. I don’t think I have ever told him, but his homily that day really impacted me. His homily was so perfect. He knew my passion; he knew how much I love soccer. So, you can only guess what the homily was about. But it was the way he connected the game to God’s ability to work in our lives, how the game of soccer has a structure that resembles the pieces that God has in our lives. How as players we have the ability to make decisions, but everything is in principle to what the head coach has instilled and taught. Faith gives me peace of mind in every decision; faith that God has a plan and that we have to do our part gives me peace. I am very blessed to be surrounded by great people, and that’s God’s work.”

The Diocese of Knoxville’s Hispanic Ministry “has had a big impact on me and my family,” Ms. Diaz said.

“I have received so much love and support. They have seen me grow up. They have seen me take so many steps: go to college, graduate with a bachelor’s, graduate with a master’s, play, coach, etc.,” she said.

Ms. Diaz added that there is “a village of people who have been so significant to my life and to this moment.”

“I am very grateful and very excited to continue to evolve and grow and hope to share that impact with those around me,” she added.

The Panthers started off their first season 2-1, with a 3-2 win over the Tennessee Wesleyan junior varsity and a 10-0 rout of the Lindsey Wilson JV as part of an 18-game schedule.

“It’s going very well. I think we have a very good group. I’m very fortunate to be with this group of girls for the first year,” Ms. Diaz said.

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