Wildcats set to start playoff run in quest for back-to-back state titles

Published 3:16 pm Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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Springwood soccer is on the cusp of greatness again this season. The Wildcats are just two wins away from claiming back-to-back state championships, but first the team is preparing for a tough matchup on Thursday against a yet-to-be-named opponent. 

Springwood earned a bye in the first round as the top overall seed in the playoffs and will face off in the semifinals against the winner of the Southern Prep and Trinity Christian matchup on Tuesday night. The Wildcats are not yet able to focus either team, but they have had success against both teams earlier this season. 

Springwood defeated Southern Prep twice during the regular season — with both wins coming by three goals or more. The Wildcats have also defeated Trinity Christian twice this season with each win coming by two goals or more. Still, with a matchup looming, Springwood coach John Lanier knows that each team could pose challenges. 

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“They both have some good talent,” Lanier said. “They have great players and two talented coaches. Both Trinity and Southern Prep’s coaches are great coaches who really know how to prepare their teams. Until we know who we’re going to play, we’re just going to work on ourselves and try to correct some things. Then, we’ll get more detailed into the opponent. 

The Wildcats are far from new to the playoff experience and adversity in the playoffs. The roster this season is filled with seniors who have been to this stage. In 2022, Springwood finished as the runner-up. In 2023, the Wildcats came from behind to win the state championship in Montgomery. 

The stage as well as the location and roster will be virtually the same as Springwood’s run last season, with some small changes. 

“I think it plays in a lot, especially the way that we won the championship last year,” Lanier said. “We were down, and we came back to pull out the win. We’ve been there before. They did change the field from grass to artificial turf. It’s going to play a little differently. We haven’t played on turf this year at all. That will be a little bit of a change, but the venue we’re familiar with, the teams we’ve played before, the guys have a lot of experience.” 

Springwood’s offense has been one of the more dominant groups in the state this season. The Wildcats have averaged over five goals per game on their way to an 11-1 record on the season. 

The variety of Springwood’s offense is what makes the Wildcats so dangerous. Several teams have attempted to stop one or two of the scorers, but Springwood has three or four guys who can score with consistency. 

“We have a good bit of talent on the attack, so some coaches try to take away one. The other guys step up,” Lanier said. “Any one of our forwards or midfielders can score if we have the opportunity. I think it’s just a matter of playing well as a team and giving people the opportunity to score. If they’re going to take one guy away, let’s use the other guys and give them opportunities.”

Lanier added, “I think one of our strengths is the depth we have on the attack. You can’t just take away one guy and that’s it.” 

The Wildcats started the season on a 10-game winning streak before losing their first game against Fort Dale Academy on April 8. While losing their undefeated season hurt, the loss also served as an opportunity for the team to see what improvements needed to be made before getting into the postseason. 

“We’ve got some good teams that we’re playing,” Lanier said. “You can’t take anybody lightly. At this point, you have to come together and play a good game to win. There are teams, if you make mistakes, they’re going to beat you.” 

Most offensive teams that score as much as Springwood does would be content with just winning shootouts each night, but that is not the case for the Wildcats. 

The Wildcats have also cranked up the intensity on the defensive side, allowing just over one goal per game and shutting out four opponents. 

“I think the big thing is just the experience,” Lanier said. “We’re very experienced back there. We’ve got some guys who’ve played a lot of soccer. We just lean on their experience, and they’re a smart group of guys who have played a lot of soccer.” 

Winning a championship in any sport at any level is tough. Only one team gets to end their season on a high note. Springwood got over the hump to win the first under Lanier last season. 

Winning back-to-back championships is something far more rare, and it would assert Springwood and Lanier as one of the premier programs in the AISA and in the state. 

“I think it would be huge,” Lanier said. “You win one, and it’s fantastic. You win a second one, especially back-to-back, it just shows the strength of these guys and the strength of the program. It’s not an easy thing to do at any level.”