Oak Mountain’s David DiPiazza wins Coach of the Year after undefeated season

Published 5:49 pm Monday, June 10, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

At media day before the start of the season, David DiPiazza said that his 2024 team was the best that he’s seen a team at in the first couple of weeks of practice.

However, he wanted to see his team grow even closer and expressed confidence that if they did that, everything would fall into place.

“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 at media day. “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.”

They achieved their goal. Oak Mountain never lost a game from that point on, ending the season with a 29-0-1 record and a Class 7A state championship.

In the process, the Eagles grew closer with each other and gained the chemistry needed to make DiPiazza’s tactics shine and overcome a brutal schedule en route to an unbeaten year.

DiPiazza’s role in orchestrating an unbelievable and historic run earned him his first Shelby County Coach of the Year award in his illustrious career at Oak Mountain.

DiPiazza and the Eagles entered 2024 hungry and motivated after a great run in 2023 was ended in the Final Four against Huntsville in a tight 1-0 loss.

It was the second straight year of heartbreak for Oak Mountain, and with a senior class determined to close out their careers on a high note, they continued working hard to grow and evolve ahead of the start of the 2024 season.

That continuity and motivation helped DiPiazza pick up right where he left off in hopes of finishing the job.

“This core group of players, it’s almost been a project,” DiPiazza said at the end of the season. “It’s not just about this group, it’s about the guys we had last year and the guys we had the year before. We haven’t really graduated a lot of kids in the last three years, and it’s been a culmination of hard work over the past three years, and to get back to the championship game is so important after getting here two years ago, it’s honestly a relief. I know the guys are tired. I think we’re all kind of exhausted and just incredibly happy and proud.”

That work began showing right away on the field as the Eagles took down a tough division of Huntsville, Hoover and Georgia’s Northgate to win the Lakeshore Shootout Platinum Division.

The title win led into four straight wins over teams that finished in the top 10 of Class 6A in Fort Payne, Northridge, Briarwood and eventual state champion Homewood as well as a surging Chelsea side.

While the Eagles suffered their first draw of the season against Oconee County to open the Jekyll Island Tournament of Champions, they rallied to outscore St. Pius X and Lowndes 15-0 in the last two matches of the tournament, giving DiPiazza his 500th career win.

After the Oconee County draw, Oak Mountain won its final 19 matches as it kept staking results on the way to an area title and eventually a state title.

At the core of those wins were DiPiazza’s solid tactics. The Eagles consistently stuck to a possession-based approach that regularly pressed the attack, and they saw great results with their 4-3-3 formation even when opponents knew what was coming.

“We just try to keep the ball, play good soccer, make them chase us, wear them down, possess the ball and we knew we’ll get chances. It’s a matter of time,” DiPiazza said after the state title win. “Honestly, it’s nothing different than we’ve done all year and we haven’t changed the way we played. We just do the same thing and it just works.”

Their “peanut butter and jelly” tactics, as DiPiazza memorably dubbed them after the quarterfinal win over Chelsea, led to wins over four of the final top 10 teams in Class 7A, including multiple wins over No. 2 Auburn, No. 3 Chelsea and No. 7 Huntsville, as well as victories over teams from Georgia and Tennessee.

As a result, as of June 3, MaxPreps has Oak Mountain ranked third in the nation among spring soccer teams and first in Alabama, beating out state champions and talented teams from around the country.

But while their on-field success puts this year’s squad up with the school’s two national championship teams as the best in history, it’s the bond off the field that DiPiazza said would be key to their success that makes the 2024 team one of the most memorable of his career.

“Ranking teams is definitely hard to do,” DiPiazza said after the state title game. “But it’s my first time I’ve ever coached a team that’s undefeated, just the guys, it’s got to be up there at the top. They’re such a tremendous group of people and I’ll never forget them.”

DiPiazza’s success on and off the field helped him rise above as competitive of a field of Coach of the Year contenders as there’s ever been.

In any other year, Chelsea’s Lee Miller would likely be a shoo-in for this award after the Hornets tied the school record for wins and lost the least number of games in program history, with three of those four losses coming to Oak Mountain in competitive battles.

Cody Baxter got Westminster OM back to the state championship game in dominant fashion after losing in the Final Four in 2023 and navigated a crowded area to claim a 10-0 record and an area title.

Pelham’s Patrick McDonald helped his Panthers overcome an area title game loss to Briarwood and battle through a pair of tight road playoff matches against McAdory and Briarwood to reach the quarterfinals.

But in the end, DiPiazza’s work turning Oak Mountain into Alabama’s Invincibles gave him the Ray Woodard Metro Coach of the Year award, and for the first time, Shelby County Coach of the Year honors as well.