FORTVILLE — When Steve Williams took over the girls soccer program at Mt. Vernon last season, winning wasn’t the issue.
It was the postseason.
The Marauders posted six consecutive winning seasons before Williams made his return to coaching and even clinched their first Hoosier Heritage Conference title in 2013.
Despite the team’s steady strides, the playoffs remained unkind.
The program’s run ended in the sectional semifinals five of the past six seasons before 2014. That fall, in Williams’ first year back, the Marauders reached the sectional finals only to lose to New Palestine, again.
It marked the sixth time in seven years the rival Dragons had ousted the Marauders in postseason play.
Mt. Vernon finished 10-8 in 2014, but with an infusion of youthful talent this fall, the Marauders finally erased the drought to win it’s first sectional title in 19 years, which earned Williams the title of Daily Reporter Coach of the Year.
After falling to New Palestine 2-1 in double overtime during the regular season, Mt. Vernon avenged the loss with a 2-1 victory in the finals to seize the sectional crown.
The team added a regional semifinal win against Roncalli in Shelbyville last month before the book closed on the Marauders’ historic season in the regional title match.
The Marauders were 12-5 the season prior to Williams’ return and in Year 2, they stayed on par with a 12-7-1 record for second in the HHC.
The primary difference from years past was in offensive efficiency, said Williams, where the Marauders excelled with 80 goals.
And it could just be the beginning with 70-plus goals returning next year.
“You never know. You need things to go your way, but on paper,” said Williams, who will lose five senior starters. “We are really fortunate to have some players who will be here for a while … knock on wood.”
Regardless, the wins are projected to mount.
Under Williams, the Marauders boys were 101-56-12, winning five sectional crowns and four regional titles.
Williams started his coaching career as an assistant coach at Mt. Vernon in 1994 and continued through 1999 before becoming the boys soccer head coach in 2000.
He held that position for nine years and was an assistant coach under former boys head coach Aaron Britt for another season before Williams’ five-year hiatus.
But he’s not going anywhere, and it doesn’t appear the Marauders are either.
Recently, Williams spoke with the Daily Reporter staff about the 2015 season. Here are some excerpts from that conversation.
How motivated was your team going into the state tournament, especially against New Palestine?
Williams: I said from the beginning of the season, if we were healthy, we could compete with anybody. We just had a rash of injuries going in the first time we played New Pal. We gave it all we had, but we felt positive we could play.
We were workmanlike on defense, but we really have a young, talented scoring team. This is the first team we’ve had like this in years. We had a lot of scoring coming from a lot of different places for a team this young.
Speaking of scoring, how was it different from last year?
Williams: Those girls up top fed off each other. It was difficult for teams. If they decided to mark Morgan (Scruggs), then you have to worry about Cleo (Mills). If you mark Cleo, then you have to worry about the midfield coming through.
Last year, basically, all of our scoring came from one player, which was Claudia Brown, and some players were hurt last year. We got them back and you add Alexi Hardie and Cleo to the mix and it made us a dangerous team.
How eager were you to start the season with all this talent on the roster?
Williams: I didn’t know how it was going to go, but the influx of young talent, especially from that FC Pride team that Alexi and Cleo played on that finished third in the nation … they came in ready. They were high-level players. We also had some really good chemistry with our young and older players.
How bright is the future of the program?
Williams: We feel really good about the future barring injury. We have some really good kids in the pipeline that could come up to help as well. Again, it was a really good mix, so we hope that continues … we will have eight or nine returning players.
How much do you build from this year’s achievements?
Williams: The younger players coming out of middle school hadn’t lost to Doe Creek in forever, so those girls aren’t used to losing. And the girls on the team hadn’t beaten New Pal in a lifetime. This should really build their confidence, and if the young girls stay healthy, they should be able to build off of this, too.