My interview with the varsity boys soccer coach of Mason High School — Paul Reedy, after their recent state championship.
On the first day of tryouts, you told the seniors that they were going to be the best class to go through MHS. Did you think that was a reasonable expectation to put on them?
“I felt like that was a fair statement to make based on the returning players we had from a very successful team a year ago and as a player gains experience and they mature physically they should improve individually and we felt that if that happened we would improve collectively as a team as well.”
Has it been your goal all along, to win the state title?
“We didn’t directly state that, but we kinda referred to it was the unspoken goal. It was on everybody’s mind, [but] we just tried to start with ‘Well let’s win the GMC in the regular season, and from there let’s win the district and win the regional,’ and once we got to state semifinals, it was a little easier to talk about…what we really wanted.”
How has the journey been, from when they started playing as freshmen to senior year and winning state?
“When we first saw them play as incoming freshmen, we knew right away that this group had the potential to be really good…the journey is never easy, it has it’s ups and downs and even though we never lost a game, I wouldn’t want people to think ‘You went through the season without much difficulty.’ It doesn’t work that way, and I think the players would be the first ones to say that they get tired physically and mentally…I told them Saturday after it was all over, ‘You’re obviously going to remember playing in the state final, but you should look back and remember the journey that it took to get there as well.’”
The road to state obviously hasn’t been easy then. How did you tackle it, did you take it one game at a time?
“I thought this team did an unbelievable job of maintaining a focus from day to day. [Their attitude was] ‘Well let’s go out and have a good practice today, so that we’re ready to play our best in the game tomorrow.’ No matter who the opponent was. And I think, especially to me, it’s important to note that as we got to about the halfway point of the regular season, we became the number one ranked team in the state of Ohio, and then gradually we were getting these very high national rankings. And that can become a burden, it can weigh a team down, and I had some concerns about that, but this group of seniors — they didn’t look at it as a burden, they didn’t allow it to become a burden, and that is not an easy thing to do, to just sort of put that off to the side and keep that focus on ‘what do we do today’ and not look at it as pressure [of] ‘Oh we have rankings so boy if we don’t end up winning state we’ll be a failure’ — that never was the way, that I could see anyway, that they thought about things.”
This group of seniors has known each other for quite a while, and they have a very strong team bond. Was that apparent when they walked in as freshmen?
“I think it starts to become clear as you start to see them play together more and more. But yeah, I felt like they had good camaraderie, they liked playing with one another, and certainly the more that I watched them play, you could tell that they’ve played a lot before they even got to high school together because they just have a way of knowing where each one is gonna be in different situations that they encounter out on the soccer field.”
Did that help you when you put the team together?
“It absolutely does. You still have to get used to certain things in training, but they brought with them a lot of experience [of] playing together and with one another that helps make the training part quicker and easier than it would be if they were not used to playing together.”
Every year, you’ve gotten closer and closer to the state title. What was the special spark with this group that helped you get there?
“It takes a lot of things falling into place. You have to have talent. You cannot win a state title without talent and we had a very talented group. But talent alone is typically not enough. We also were injury-free, with one exception…but his injury occurred so early…As you get into the tournament you don’t wanna have a bad injury occur then because then, especially if it’s a key player, you don’t have a lot of time to get used to playing without him. So we didn’t have any injuries, we had the talent, and at times in a tournament run, you’re gonna need a little bit of good fortune that you’re ready to take advantage of. And our good fortune, I’ll always say, was we really dodged a few potential goals scored against us in our Turpin match which was the regional semifinal, and they were undefeated. I mean, it was two undefeated teams playing, and they put us under a lot of pressure early, and they had some chances that were near misses for them. And when we were able to get through that, get to halftime of that game 0-0, knowing that they had played better than us, we felt like ‘Okay we need to take advantage of the fact that it’s only 0-0 and find a way to win.’ And when we found a way to win that game, I felt like that was the bit of good fortune that you also need, along with the talent and not having the injuries.”
Was there a moment in the game when you realized ‘you did it’ ?
“When it’s only 1-0, it’s hard to feel that you’ve done it until you’re just about, if not to, the final whistle, but when it got to two minutes to play, I was feeling pretty confident that this group against the team we were playing that day, that they were not gonna allow a goal . But the celebration didn’t begin until we kicked the ball down the field with 10 seconds to go and it became clear that there was no was no way they could get the ball all the way up the field. So it was tense, with only a one goal lead, but it was a neat feeling to realize that all the hard work was gonna get the ultimate reward.”
With an undefeated season and the state title, in a way you got the perfect ending. Is there anything you would change?
“I can’t think of anything that I would wanna change. What we said in the locker room to the players after the game was, ‘Try to soak all of this in today, the whole weekend, the send off that the school gave us, but also soak in and think back on the journey.’ But the bottom line is they’re gonna have memories of this season, that game in particular, that will last a lifetime and will bring them a lot of joy and pride when they think back to what they accomplished.”
There have also been talks about you getting a tattoo to celebrate the championship. How do you feel about that?
“[The tattoo story] goes back to probably about five years or so ago. I had a group of players at that time…[that] came into my room and asked me ‘Can we get a star for each GMC championship that we’ve won on the shirt?’ And that idea originated from Indiana University. Their men’s soccer team has stars on their jersey[s] for each national championship that they’ve won, and some of these guys had attended their camp a few times growing up. Well when they asked me about the stars for the GMC championships, I said to them, ‘No, you can only put a star on a jersey or shirt for a state title’ because at IU they don’t put ‘em on there for [just] winning their conference — it’s only for winning the biggest prize. So they said ‘Ah okay, we get it.’ Well, last year, as we got into the tournament, we had a very successful regular season [and] talented group. I have the seniors over to my house for dinner every year at the beginning of the tournament, and I sort of thought I’d like to do something to take a little bit of the pressure or edge off of the players, and so I said to ‘em ‘If you guys win the state title, I’ll get a star tattooed on my chest.’ And they just thought that was great, and I think in a way it did get ‘em to think about something other than the pressure of the tournament games. Obviously last year we fell a little short, so this year the seniors come over to my house for dinner and one of them says, ‘By the way coach, would you still get the tattoo if we win this year?’ and I said ‘Yes I will.” And so they were all over that, especially after we won…”
Congratulations once again to the Mason boys soccer program for its first state championship!
To read more on the story, check out my article on thecspn.com: “Becoming champions”