Spain Park’s Starr, Briarwood’s Leib share Coach of the Year honors

Published 9:39 am Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

In a year full of incredible coaching displays, two in particular stood out and earned much deserved recognition.

Briarwood Christian’s Ryan Leib and Spain Park’s Robert Starr are the Shelby County Coaches of the Year after each team found success in different ways this season.

Briarwood entered the 2024 season under Leib looking for redemption after coming inches away from the state championship game by losing in a penalty shootout to Montgomery Academy.

Briarwood’s Ryan Leib earned a share of Shelby County Coach of the Year once again for helping the Lions finish the season strong with wins in 13 of their final 15 matches. (File)

The Lions leapt straight into the gauntlet in 2024, facing highly-ranked teams like Auburn, McGill-Toolen, Mountain Brook and Spain Park. After a scoreless draw against John Carroll, they found themselves with a 2-4-2 record against that early schedule which included six 7A teams.

Briarwood used those challenges to make themselves better, and Leib’s squad was nearly unstoppable from there.

The Lions went undefeated in its next 14 matches after that with the lone blemish on its 13-0-1 record during that span being a scoreless draw against Class 7A No. 5 Oak Mountain.

That stretch included a 6-0 undefeated run through area play for the second straight season to claim another area championship over a competitive area of Helena, Indian Springs and Pelham before embarking on a run to Huntsville that went through Hueytown, Helena and Northridge.

Once they got to the Final Four, they accomplished what they couldn’t last year and didn’t just defeat Montgomery Academy but dominated them in a 5-2 showing.

While the Lions fell short in the state championship game, Briarwood ended the season having only lost to one Class 6A team: Mountain Brook.

Those dominant showings against Class 6A teams came from both an electric offense and a stout defense, both of which were results of Leib’s executed tactics.

Briarwood showed throughout the year that it wasn’t afraid to shoot the ball from anywhere, taking advantage of the shooting talents of Taylor Leib, Brooklyn Barnett and the rest of the offense to score 99 goals on the season.

That dominance continued on the other end of the pitch as they allowed just 28 goals across 24 matches, earning a +71-goal differential in the process. That record improved even more in area play as the Lions conceded just four goals in those six matches versus the 40 they scored.

Briarwood’s consistent dominance with its attacking style made Leib a fitting choice to earn a share of the Coach of the Year crown.

Starr also had a phenomenal season leading Spain Park through a historic regular season run.

The Jags started out the year on a tear, winning all three matches before the Lakeshore Shootout and ran the table in the top division of the tournament, facing tough opponents like Huntsville, James Clemens and Georgia’s Northgate and White County in the process.

They quickly proved that their early season run was no fluke as they continued to rack up win after win over some of the best teams in Class 7A and beyond.

Another 3-0 undefeated tournament title at the Jekyll Island Tournament of Champions as well as a perfect run through area play while conceding just one goal kept the momentum going through the end of the regular season.

In the end, the Jags ran the gauntlet and finished the regular season a perfect 21-0, ascending up the MaxPreps national rankings in the process as one of the top teams in the entire country.

While Spain Park didn’t face a lot of resistance during the regular season as it outscored its opponents 99-9 and had 17 clean sheets in 21 matches, it was in those closer matches that Starr’s coaching shined and pushed the Jags over the top to regular season perfection.

Spain Park found itself in multiple one-score games against top sides like Oak Mountain, eventual state runner-up Hoover and Georgia’s Northgate and even trailed against Vestavia Hills in a battle of the top two teams in the state at a time.

However, Starr helped his team keep composure and overcome the occasional slow start to secure the victory and keep the Jags going on the road to a 21-0 record.

While Spain Park fell short in the first round in a penalty shootout to Vestavia Hills, it took nothing away from the dominance it showed in the regular season once again with Starr at the helm as the Jags finished the year ranked No. 3 in the Class 7A coaches poll.

Both Starr and Leib’s work to keep a pair of perennial powerhouses right near the top of the state helped them add another Coach of the Year trophy to their already successful resumes.