GREENFIELD — Matt McConnell knew Greenfield-Central had the talent. The skill and the will to win were there. However, putting it all together, especially for a first-year head coach, takes time.
But McConnell got the job done in a hurry.
Leading Greenfield-Central to a sectional championship win against 2015 title-winner Mt. Vernon, McConnell and the Cougars finished the rookie head coach’s first season in tip-top fashion.
Finishing the year 13-3-1, Greenfield-Central, which averaged 3.1 goals per game, won nine of its final 11 contests. Its season came to an end in regional play at the hands of Perry Meridian, 1-0.
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The Cougars finished second in a tough Hoosier Heritage Conference at 5-2 under McConnell, a long-time assistant at the school. For his and the team’s accomplishments, McConnell has been named The Daily Reporter Boys Soccer Coach of the Year.
The Daily Reporter caught up with McConnell to talk about his first season in control and the future of the program.
DR: What was it like winning a sectional title in your first season as head coach?
MC: Winning a sectional title as a first-year head coach was great. Our sectional is very competitive and difficult to win, so to have the opportunity to win on your first opportunity is an honor.
DR: Can you talk about the senior class and how they helped shape the program?
MC: Our senior class was instrumental to our success this season. They have played for three different head coaches in their time at Greenfield-Central and buying in is always a concern when a coach begins leading a team. This group of seniors bought into an idea that we could surpass everyone else’s expectations, have a great season and put ourselves in a position to win a sectional championship. During the regular season, losing to Mt. Vernon was really tough on them. My concern was about how our seniors would respond and lead their teammates from that moment forward.
During practice the next day, my concerns were gone. Not only was it clear they were moving on, the loss became a source of motivation they used to lead their teammates toward getting better and preparing for a potential rematch in the sectional.
DR: What was the most exciting part about the season in your eyes?
MC: Obviously, winning the sectional title was the most remarkable moment. But another moment worth mentioning came late in the opening match of tournament play when we found ourselves down by a goal. Jack Sifferlen had moved out of goal and into the field and on a free kick, from 35 yards out, found Luke Tuttle, who was able to head the ball past Shelbyville goalkeeper, Will England, to tie the match. It was a moment where you have two guys who have spent countless hours together growing up. They played soccer together since their early years, and had been so instrumental in our program for the past four seasons and gave everything they had. It was an exciting moment to say the least.
DR: What helped this group gel so quickly and come up big when it mattered most?
MC: Because we had lost some big players to graduation heading into this season, the advantage we had was a lack of team identity. That could seem detrimental to many but for us, we became a team who got the chance to develop a new identity, make it their own and run with it. From junior varsity to varsity, all of our athletes understood if we play for each other, putting our personal accolades aside, we would put ourselves in a great position to be successful.
DR: Can you talk about the future of the program?
MC: We bring back a solid core of players. In fact, I think many of them are unknown to most but are real impact players. The next several years for Greenfield-Central looks promising, and if our players can continue to become a team that works for each other, I expect great success next season and beyond. However, nothing is given in our conference and in our sectional. The only way we will do well is if we earn it, and there is no doubt we are looking forward to the work ahead.
DR: What does the team need to work on the most over the summer?
MC: We lose a serious amount of leadership inside of this senior class. Not only in the guys whose names get mentioned most, but in the guys who don’t get mentioned as often, as well. I expect this offseason to be one where we see some guys begin to set the pace and we see new leaders emerge. One thing is for sure, the underclassmen are a hungry and ambitious group. We are excited to see what the off season will bring.
DR: How did being familiar with the program — and even with assistant coach Bobby Holden — help your transition as head coach?
MC: Having so much experience with the program was definitely a huge factor in how quickly we came together as a team. The administration at Greenfield-Central has been great in continuing in the leadership of this program. From Jared Manning, to Isaac Beal and then to myself. We’ve had three coaching changes in four years. The familiarity is there, and we were able to move forward immediately.
Having Coach Holden on the staff was invaluable. However, Marc Redick (five year assistant) and Jeremiah Spencer (former Greenfield-Central standout) on the staff made for an outstanding group. In fact, any accolades given to me for the success of this season really rest on the shoulders of those three gentlemen. Each of them brings a great deal of value to the program, and I am convinced our success was impacted more by their efforts than anything I did. I cannot say enough good about them.