WALNUT CREEK -- The Oct. 15 firing of Northgate High's girls soccer coach just before the season begins left many students and alumni angry and confused.

Cristina Ballard had coached at the girls soccer team for five years, leading the varsity team to multiple winning seasons and taking them to the second round of the playoffs last year.

A Facebook page for a group called "We want Ballard back" was created, and more than 1,000 people had joined by Tuesday; that page appears to have been taken down as of Wednesday.

Students spoke in her defense at the Oct. 22 school board meeting; an online petition was begun calling for Ballard's reinstatement, and alumni sent emails to Principal John McMorris and Athletic Director Steve Chappell.

In the meantime, the school quickly hired Mike Kelley, a former Northgate soccer player in 2001 who went on to play soccer at Sonoma State, to succeed Ballard. Kelley was a coach in the Mustang Soccer League's high competition Division I before being hired at Northgate. Tryouts for the 2012-2013 season start Nov. 5.

Ballard remains a Spanish teacher at Northgate.

Ballard was fired despite her team winning 11 games and losing four this past season and making the playoffs.

School officials said they simply decided to go in a different direction, and declined to comment further. Unlike teachers, coaches are at-will employees and can be fired at any time.

While Ballard told this newspaper she is willing to talk about what happened, she had not granted an interview as of Wednesday.

Ballard's husband Ben is the assistant athletic director and a football coach at Northgate. He said he could not comment on the circumstances of his wife's firing, but said it had nothing to do with criminal or legal issues.

"The athletic director felt she wasn't moving in the same direction" as he is, Ben Ballard said. "But as an assistant athletic director and on-campus coach, (Cristina's removal) wasn't a good move for us at Northgate right now."

Athletic director Chappell said he is optimistic about this year's girls soccer season.

"We're very optimistic about the new season," said Chappell, adding that he too could not comment on the circumstances of Ballard's dismissal.

"We were very fortunate to have her as our head coach," said Chappell. "We valued her in many ways and appreciate her service to Northgate."