By GREG MENGELT
Providence girls’ soccer coach Dave Smith guided his Pioneers to the IHSAA State Finals in each of the past two seasons.
The Pioneers won last year’s first-ever Class A state championship over Mishawaka Marian. After falling short against Marian, 2-0 on Saturday, Smith answered questions about both teams, the IHSAA’s ruling that will force Providence to play in Class 2A next season and more.
QUESTION: What are your thoughts on this year’s team after coaching it through long tournament runs the last two years?
SMITH: “I love this team. You can’t ask for more. They train hard. They stay out of trouble. They get fantastic grades. They represent their school well. Their work ethic in practice is something to behold. I would invite any youth player — if you want to know what it means to work hard, to get better at something — come out and watch these girls train. Unfortunately, you won’t get to see Leah [Mattingly] and Erin [Butler] and [Maryashly Betz] and Katie [Barron] and the rest of the seniors anymore. But I think the work ethic — the standard they’ve established — will carry forward. They’re just sensational kids and a dream-come-true to coach.”
Q: When the decision was made to go to two classes, I’m sure you thought you would win a lot of tournament games and do some good things. But prior to last season, did you imagine that you’d coach in back-to-back state championships?
SMITH: “Not at all. Because we had had some success, people were like, ‘State championship, baby!’ I’m saying we’re certainly going to make that our goal, but there are a lot of good teams out there. There are still teams twice as big as we are [in Class A]. [Mishawaka Marian] is 40 percent bigger than us — 700-something to our 460 — so we knew it was still going to be a challenge. So, no, I never dreamed we would put back-to-back trips to the state finals together. That was beyond reality, really.”
Q: I’ve avoided asking this question all year. I’ve heard you’re not happy about it, so here’s your chance. What are your thoughts on the “success rule” that moves you into Class 2A next season because of the success you’ve had the past two seasons?
SMITH: “I think the rule was not written for soccer, because we’re a two-class sport [instead of four or five like many others]. It’s something that’s been put into place for other sports and the IHSAA has said that’s where it started — with other sports. We just got swept in with it and it’s been modified. The fact that we’re a two-class sport and we’re going to be playing schools with 4,000 students in the playoffs is, to me, a bit of an oversight on their part.”
Q: On the other hand, do you look forward to the challenge of excitement that comes with playing with Floyd Central and New Albany again in your sectional?
SMITH: “We come back into our local sectional with New Albany, Jeff and Floyd Central, Corydon, whoever else is in our sectional, so you get those rivalries back. Our goal next year will be to win sectional and see what happens after that, just like the old days. Here we go revisiting that again.”
Q: I know it’s a little early, but after losing so many valuable, experienced seniors, what will your expectations be for next year’s team? Your strengths and weaknesses?
SMITH: “We’ve got some shoring up to do on the defense with the loss of two seniors [Betz and Mattingly]. We should get Sera Craig back from an ACL/MCL tear. She’ll be a senior, but we’ll have to find a fourth defender. We have to replace Erin Duncan, Katie Barron, so we need a few kids to slide into the midfield. Fortunately, we have all three or four kids who play forward, most of our midfield back, but Erin Duncan and Katie, it’s going to be hard to replace them. We have some talented freshmen coming in. I think we’ll be similar. This year’s team had a different flavor than last year’s team. Who knows? That’s what makes coaching soccer so fun. You start out with a bunch of pieces and you try to cobble something together and hopefully — every once in a while — you get to come to Indianapolis and play in a state championship. It’s been a blast. I’m proud of the girls and we have a lot of good kids coming back. We’ll see. It should be fun.”