For the first time in its history, there’s a little swagger around the Ada High School boys soccer program.
Coming off a 2-11 season that capped a three-year run of futility, the Cougars broke out this spring. They started their 2012 campaign with three straight wins and the program’s first-ever title at Noble’s Rose Rock Tournament, and after losing a string of close games, they won three of four in district play to finish with an 8-5 record overall and a runner-up finish in their district.
As a result, the Cougars not only earned the first playoff berth by a boys soccer team in school history but also the right open the postseason at home against Elk City at 7 p.m. Friday.
“You can see the pride the guys are carrying around,” said coach Tom Morrison, who took over the boys squad this year after four years of coaching the Ada girls team. “They were kind of a down bunch for a few years playing in those tough districts.
“To be able to compete at a higher level because of the hard work they’ve put in, you can see them walking a little bit taller and getting to enjoy conversations about how they’re doing,” he added. “There are no attitude problems. It’s a team, not an individual, and it’s fun to watch them grow like that.”
Led by midfielders Brooks Thompson and Yuta Saito, the Cougars have become an efficient and sometimes explosive offensive team that late in the season began to win the close games that got away earlier. But Morrison said it was his defense that fueled this year’s dramatic turnaround.
“The key to everything was in the back four,” he noted. “The boys gave up over 150 goals the past three seasons; this year, they gave up 17. Guys like (keeper) Joseph (Saaty), Paul (Thumerelle), Sam (McCann) and Eric (Araiza) really stepped up on defense.
Thompson posted his first career hat trick and Saito added the fourth goal in Monday’s 4-1 victory at Southwest Covenant, which ensured the Cougars would be home for the first round of the postseason. That duo leads an offense that has grown into a formidable weapon late in the season.
“When you have midfielders like Brooke and Yuta who control the distribution of the ball and can go one-on-one with defenders, it opens up a lot of things,” Morrison said.
The Elk City boys squad finished third behind Woodward and Clinton in its district, and Morrison said the Elks and Cougars have had a couple of common opponents this season.
“They beat Weatherford (a team the Cougars rallied from a 3-0 deficit to beat, 4-3, in a shootout last month) in a shootout earlier this season, and they lost to Newcastle (which Ada beat in district play),” he said. “Woodward was the dominant team in their district, but I don’t know much about (Elk City). They’re probably in the same boat because we’re so far apart and haven’t been exposed to each other. I anticipate us showing up and protecting our home field.”
Morrison blamed the loss of some key players “with injuries and for other reasons” for the Cougars’ midseason struggles, adding that the playing time some others got who would normally have been on the bench has provided added depth during his team’s late-season surge.
“Some other players stepped in, and it wasn’t so much skill-wise as mental, but I think getting those other players in there has made a difference late in the season,” he explained. “We played a tough schedule, and we’re peaking here at the end when we should be playing our best. Hopefully we’ll keep doing that throughout the playoffs.”