Oak Mountain enters season with high expectations and continuity from 2023 Final 4 team

Published 11:08 am Thursday, February 1, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

The Oak Mountain Eagles have set the standard of excellence for soccer in Shelby County. The team’s expectations year-in and year-out are to win state titles and reach the Final 4, which they lived up to again in 2023 with another Final 4 berth even if they fell short of the state championship.

So, when veteran coach David DiPiazza says an Eagles side is the best, it means something.

“This is the best I’ve had a team look at this point in the year,” DiPiazza said after the second week of practice.

Much of that is because of the players who are back for Oak Mountain. DiPiazza’s side only graduated two starters and features many of the key pieces from last year’s Final 4 team, including reigning Shelby County Player of the Year Om Shrestha and junior Gabe Capocci in midfield and Aidan Riley at forward.

That has made the start of this season easier for DiPiazza and led to great success in training.

“It’s been fantastic and kind of easy for me as a coach because we all have the same expectations and they’ve been a great extension of me as a head coach,” DiPiazza said of his three five-year lettermen Riley, Shrestha and Nate Joiner. “They’ve made my life easier, that’s for sure.”

While that continuity has bred some familiarity in Oak Mountain’s tactics, the team is has added new elements to their style and hope to excel with multiple formations.

“Tactically, replacing a center back and a goalkeeper isn’t difficult, so we’re adding a lot to how we’re playing,” DiPiazza said. “System-wise, it’s not going to change, but what we do within the system is going to be fun to watch for sure.”

All of that is in hopes that the Eagles can adapt to any opponent that they face during a difficult schedule which, on top of area foes Chelsea, Spain Park and Hewitt-Trussville, includes Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, Homewood, Briarwood, Dothan and Auburn.

The good news for Oak Mountain is that it has a hungry group of players eager to improve and evolve.

While Joiner is entering his fifth season as a varsity player, he is constantly looking for ways to take his game to the next level.

“We’re always getting progressively better every practice, so I would say we don’t ever want to peak so we get better every single practice, every single game and it just goes up from there,” Joiner said.

Riley believes that having a will to win is their biggest key to success.

“I think with high school it’s how much you want it and how hard you’re going to work for it,” Riley said.

Even beyond the Eagles’ three five-year lettermen in Riley, Joiner and Shrestha, they have leadership across the field that helps DiPiazza rest easy knowing that his team can overcome adversity midgame and be ready for the high level of competition they will face this year.

“What I’m fortunate about now and I think we have is players and leadership in the team,” DiPiazza said. “And not just with one or two people, with a lot of people that I’m confident that our effort’s not going to drop, our work ethic, our level of play. I think they’re going to hold their teammates accountable for that and hopefully that will keep us successful.”

While the expectations of competing for a state title are the same as ever, DiPiazza believes in his group as both players and people and knows if they keep growing closer as a team, they will achieve their goals.

“I want to see our group grow together as a team and be close as a team and continue to grow as a team, which we already are, and be good human beings and good people,” DiPiazza said. “And I think if we do that, all the other goals will come. I think we’re definitely following the right path and doing the right things to get to that goal.