When he took the job before the season began, Heritage Christian Academy coach Clint Willis wasn’t even sure he’d have enough players to field a team in 2021.
Now, he is set to coach in the KCAA state semifinals tonight and his undefeated Warriors are two wins away from raising another state championship trophy.
“I definitely didn’t expect this,” Willis said. “Once I saw the seniors and juniors I had, I thought, ‘Man, I have some kids that could really play — it’d be a shame if the kids didn’t play.’ What saved us and allowed us to field a team was we picked up two or three eighth-graders. … It was when we added them that gave us solid numbers. The eighth-graders we picked up have contributed throughout the season.”
When HCA takes the pitch against Academy in the state semifinals tonight in Elizabethtown, not only will it be a big game for the Warriors players, it will arguably be the biggest game for Willis as well.
“I’ve been coaching for over 20 years and I’ve coached in anywhere from 350 to 400 soccer games,” he said. “I can’t imagine in my first year of being at Heritage having this kind of success. The next two games could be the two biggest games I’ve ever coached in. I’ve coached it all except college or professional soccer. It’s going to mean a lot to me. These kids I’m coaching at HCA are a special bunch.”
The Warriors may not have dropped a game all year, sitting at 7-0-1 this season, it definitely didn’t start off the way Willis would have liked.
A close win to open the season and a draw with Assumption had Willis and his team trying to put together the right pieces and perform at a high level.
Once Willis got his players to play the way he wanted, everything took off.
“When they started passing the ball the way I wanted them to — that’s when it really took off,” he said. “Our defense has been solid all year long. We’ve given up four goals all year long and two of those came against KHSAA teams. We only allowed two goals to KCAA teams.”
After the tie to Assumption, the Warriors outscored KCAA opponents 23-2 the rest of the way.
Now in the state tournament with the season on the line, Willis said he feels good going in and hopes his team can show up and get the job done just like it has all year long.
“I don’t want to be overconfident but I really like our chances,” Willis said. “There are two things that could happen. We could be rusty or we could be well-rested. … We had a great practice (Tuesday).
“They haven’t gotten too high and they haven’t gotten too low — they’re the exact same team they’ve been all year. They’re not nervous and they’re not overly excited.”
The Warriors face Academy today at 5:30 p.m.