Quest for back-to-back: Springwood soccer all in on winning another championship

Published 10:24 am Saturday, March 23, 2024

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Going back to back? Few teams at any level, in any sport, have done it. But that is exactly what Springwood’s boys soccer program is on a mission to do. 

Last season, the Wildcats came from behind to beat Southern Prep Academy 3-2 and win the first state championship in program history. The program had been to the title game before, losing in the state championship in 2022, but the team had never gotten over that hump. 

Still, with several key pieces returning and an increase in excitement within the school, the Wildcats are not resting on their laurels. 

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“We have a big senior class this year, it was juniors last year,” Springwood coach John Lanier said. “We knew we had quite a few guys coming back. We thought it was a good goal for us to try to go win another one with a good crew coming back. That’s kind of been the goal the whole time.” 

Lanier is in his seventh year as the boys soccer coach and his fifth year as the girls soccer coach. Last season marked the first time during Lanier’s coaching career that he won a championship.
Springwood’s soccer program has always been an important part of the school and one of the better programs in the area, but last season’s championship took the program to another level and invigorated the community and team. 

“It was big,” Lanier said. “We’ve had some success with win-loss records and have had some good players come through. It was very rewarding to finally get that championship. It meant a lot to the school, to the guys and to me.” 

Springwood had several seniors return this year, and each of those guys had their sights set on another championship. Most of the seniors have been with the program since junior high, and they have dealt with all the highs and lows. 

The focus from that group of seniors has led the Wildcats to have an even better start to this season. Springwood currently sits at 9-0 with each of the team’s wins coming by an average of five goals. 

“They’ve been a big part of the program’s success for a while,” Lanier said. “I think them getting that championship last year, that feeling, they wanted to do that again before they finished up.” 

The team lost just a few key seniors from last season, and the team is just short of identical to last season’s team. 

With a large senior class, Lanier has never had to worry about leadership on the team. Several players have stepped up to lead the Wildcats on and off the pitch. 

“Last year they were the juniors, and we had some seniors that were more vocal. It’s not been a group that I’ve had to try to tell them to step into the leadership role,” Lanier said. “I think they were ready for it and prepared. It’s just been one of those things when the season started that they were the seniors this year and were going to be the vocal leaders of the team.” 

The Wildcats have such a deep roster this season that it has been hard for any team to focus on just one player. 

The offense for Springwood has been great, scoring nearly six goals per game, but the Wildcats have hung their hats on the defensive side. Springwood has allowed just five goals this season in nine games, and the Wildcats have shut out five of their opponents. 

Springwood is led on the defensive side by Crawford Fuller, Dixon Fuller Felipe Moura and Brennan Plank. Dixon and Plank were starters last season, and Crawford started as a sophomore before a basketball injury kept him off the pitch last season. Moura is newer to the program as he came to Springwood through the international school. 

Defensive soccer is far from glamorous, but the Wildcats have bought in on the defensive side and it is a large part of the reason why Springwood is ranked as the top team in the AISA. 

“They’re very driven, they’re perfectionists,” Lanier said. “They take a lot of pride in having a great defense. Now, we’ve scored 52 goals this year. We have an attack…Defensively, they’re not going to be a group where [they] know they can score so they’re going to win a whole lot. They’re very driven to be successful and not give up anything defensively.” 

Everyone in the state and in the community is well aware of how dominant Springwood’s soccer program has become. However, few if any around the state know what has gone into building the program. 

Several other high school sports, kids can start later on in life. Soccer is not one of those sports. Most of Springwood’s soccer players have spent time playing the sport over the course of their entire lives. 

“It takes a lot of time, years,” Lanier said. “A lot of these guys have been playing a long time, and they’ve put in a lot of hard work. It’s not one of those sports, especially in America, a lot of kids don’t grow up playing soccer. It’s hard to take a kid in high school who has never played and turn them into a fantastic player in a short period of time. They just don’t have the foot skills and things like that. Their success has been something that’s been built over the years.” 

Soccer is a growing sport within the United States, but it has also started to see growth in and around Chambers County. 

Valley, Springwood and several other programs have seen success on the pitch. The Wildcats’ recent success has helped to build excitement for the sport, and it will hopefully lead to more growth in the county. 

The Wildcats are set to be championship favorites this season, but it is impossible to get to that level without a perfectionist leading the way. 

Despite Springwood winning most of its games this season by a wide margin, Lanier still looks for and works to improve mistakes that he and the team make in practice and in games. 

“I’m a perfectionist too,” Lanier said. “It’s not just the score but how did we play. You can have a great game, and you can see little mistakes that you made or decisions that I should have made differently. Those little things in a different game can make a difference. We’re always trying to improve even the little things.” 

Springwood has just three games left in the regular season. The Wildcats are the favorites heading into the playoffs, but Lanier knows that there will be a huge target on their backs. 

“It’s going to be tough,” Lanier said. “You win one and everybody is out for you. Everybody knows what you’re capable of, and everybody is going to give you their best game. It just takes trying to cut down on the mistakes and trying to be balanced.”