Briarwood’s Leib, Westminster OM’s Randal share 2023 Coach of the Year award

Published 5:07 pm Tuesday, June 20, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

With historic seasons for both Briarwood Christian and Westminster at Oak Mountain, both driven by incredible coaching and tactics, it only makes sense that both coaches receive the flowers they’re due.

Briarwood Christian coach Ryan Leib and Westminster OM coach Joe Randal are the 2023 Shelby County Coaches of the Year, thanks to the Lions reaching the Final Four for the first time at 6A and the Knights taking their first 1A-3A state title since 2019.

Leib’s dominance at the 5A classification is well known. He won four state titles in the classification since taking over as Briarwood Christian’s girls soccer coach in 2006, winning the crown in 2006, 2007, 2010 and 2017.

But ever since the Lions made the jump to 6A, a trip to the Final Four has eluded Leib.

Leib got over the hill in 2023 thanks to a dominant run in the area. The Lions claimed the area championship behind an undefeated 6-0 campaign.

They posted an impressive 17-4-1 record on the season, only losing to two 7A opponents, eventual state champions Homewood and to Montgomery Academy in a semifinal shootout.

The Lions picked up impressive wins along the way, including a 3-0 series sweep of perennial powerhouse Indian Springs, Northridge in the quarterfinals and 7A semifinalist Oak Mountain.

They did it all behind Leib’s high-octane offense, which was powered by 36 goals from sophomore Taylor Leib and 30 more from Mississippi State-bound Abigail Hoaglund, earning both All-County First Team selections.

Leib also had two All-County players in his backline in Piper Eighmy and Bradford Latta, both of whom helped the Lions record 11 clean sheets and make sure they didn’t surrender the lead that the offense had earned.

The combination of winning offense and defense was the formula to Leib returning to his winning ways and making a return trip to the Final Four in Huntsville.

For Westminster OM, success in Huntsville is nothing new. The Knights captured the 1A-3A state title in 2019, but they hadn’t won since.

Randal entered his third year at Westminster OM with a group of players who had never tasted victory in the state title game since this year’s seniors didn’t join the varsity team until 2020.

However, Randal and the Knights were slowly but surely getting back to winning silverware. They reached the quarterfinals in 2021 and the semifinals in 2022, and after experiencing heartbreak in Huntsville last year at the Final Four, they vowed to not let it happen this year, and they fulfilled that promise.

“As soon as we lost to Trinity last season, I wrote down, ‘We will win State this year,’ and put forth the effort to get here,” coach Randal said after winning the state title. “And it came true.”

One of the reasons they got over the hump was because of coach Randal’s bold tactical change to play a relentless offensive style from the first whistle.

Often in soccer, when a goal is scored in the first couple minutes of action, it’s from a defensive breakdown, a fluke play, or an otherworldly strike that catches the goalie off guard. With the Knights, they made it part of their game plan to make early runs and score early, and it worked to perfection all season.

Westminster OM had a perfect area record and when they reached the state playoffs, they beat Susan Moore in the semifinals 4-0 behind a second minute penalty from Jenny Grant and defeated St. James 3-0 in the state title game with a Vale Richie goal just 34 seconds into the match that was quickly followed by an LC Smith set piece goal in the second minute.

“It’s been part of this strategy since earlier this season,” coach Randal said. “We played an opponent that we battled last season. And the important thing that coach said that stuck with me was, ‘You beat my team in the first 15 minutes.’ And that stuck with me the rest of the season. So, I hate to be that kind of a coach, but sometimes you just gotta go for it early.”

Randal’s tactics helped unlock the talent of one of his most gifted squads to date. Richie earned First Team All-County honors behind 31 goals, 15 assists and a state title game MVP award in just her freshman year. Lailie Parvin held on to the early leads with clean sheets in each of the playoff games, which earned her a First Team All-County spot as well.

In addition, Emily White (27 goals, 16 assists), Jenny Grant (14 goals, 6 assists), LC Smith (10 goals, 4 assists) and Bella Naish (4 goals, 16 assists) all put up huge numbers for the Knights to help capture the state title.

The honors weren’t just reserved for his players, as Randal was named the Alabama Private/Parochial School Coach of the Year and now can add Shelby County Coach of the Year to his resume.

“Three years with this team, it’s a dream come true,” coach Randal said. “It’s a dream come true. Every year we’ve done nothing but elevate. We hope we continue to do so.”