Spain Park drawing on experience and lessons learned in hopes to go further

Published 12:53 pm Monday, February 5, 2024

By SETH HAGAN | Special to the Reporter

Spain Park head soccer coach Christopher Hall will lead a Jaguar team heavy in upperclassmen and experience into the 2024 season and wants to finish with no regrets. The 2021 state title isn’t too far away in the rear-view mirror, but he knows his club will have to form its own identity.

“We have a really senior laden team, so these are guys who have been tested,” Hall said. “We are bringing back a lot of experience from last year. Every team has their own DNA, their own characteristics, and it’s about finding our strengths and playing to them.”

Hall believes his senior midfielders will be the engine of his team. Their familiarity and how they play off each other will play a massive factor in the Jags’ success this season.

The three seniors spoke about their offseason, their preparation and how they’re coming together to make their last year a memorable one.

“This group has played together for close to five years now so there’s a lot of chemistry,” Andrew Phillips said. “We have a bitter taste in our mouth from last season, so this offseason we’ve been working really hard to get to a place where we can win some games, and we’re excited for this season.”

Our conditioning was definitely more serious this year,” Grant Walter said. “I️ would also say the intensity of our training has been very high.”

Accountability will be equally shared amongst the players and coaches, a must for the team to reach their full potential.

“I really think all the players are holding each other accountable and our coach is doing a good job of keeping us straight,” Donovan Wynn said. “We feel like we have the best 7A coach in the 205, and if you’re trained by the best, you’ll be the best.”

“The upperclassmen are setting the example for underclassmen,” Phillips said. “A great team holds each other accountable, not just the coach. When we go into practice, the goal is to create intensity and environments where everyone wants to compete and succeed.”

Hall will also add a few subtle wrinkles to the coaching staff’s strategy to keep opponents on their toes but knows his team’s reputation will come down to the lengths each player is willing to go to in order to achieve success.

“I want us to bring the intensity every game, which I think this group will,” Hall said. “The guys know the level they have to play at, I think you’ll see us with a little counter attacking style this year and it always starts with the defense. ‘Are you the first defender when you lose the ball?’ That says a lot about you and how much you’re invested. Our whole senior class is very verbal and encouraging of each other.”

The Jaguars were very disappointed in the way last year transpired, but there’s a quiet confidence that they can flip the script this year.

Many starters from last year’s team were experiencing varsity ball for the first time and weren’t as connected, but the players believe they’ll be better prepared for the challenges 2024 will pose in the future.

“There’s lots to be said about fast not hurried, last year was hurried, but we’re much more comfortable with varsity experience,” Phillips said. “This team loves to compete, I️ think we’re looking forward to games where we’ll have to play our best. We are driven by the goals we saw as younger players and now, as seniors, we can do the same thing.”

Spain Park will have to fight for every inch in Class 7A, Area 6 which includes Shelby County stalwarts Oak Mountain and Chelsea. The coaching staff has also loaded up several big-time matchups to sharpen the Jags early on.

“We always have a challenging schedule–you can’t be in this area and not have a challenging schedule,” Hall said. “It’s important to play tough area teams to get you ready for the season. I know we’re going to be playing Vestavia, we’re going to the Southern Shootout and the annual rivalry with Hoover is going to be a good game. We want to be challenged because you only get better by playing other really good teams.”

Hall’s desire is to see his boys attack their games with a reactionary mindset. Now that the team’s comfort level and confidence has been restored, they can play fast and adjust on the fly.

Spain Park’s ultimate destination won’t be determined by their mistakes, but rather how they react to and learn from them.

“What I️ want is to play with no regrets,” Hall said. “I don’t want us thinking the game–that makes you a step slow. It’s an imperfect game, but it’s how you handle the imperfections in the game that define you in the course of a season.”