Sometimes more is less. At least that’s how Brian Haddock feels. As his Nerinx Hall soccer team prepares for the district tournament this week, Haddock won’t be delving into his bag of coaching tricks, trying to give his postseason newbies a rahrah speech. Nope. Haddock prefers a more hands-off approach. “You can say all you want and draw things up on the board, but until you’re out there, you’re not ready for it,” Haddock says. “You just have to throw them into the fire.”
Instead, the senior Markers have been the ones giving their younger teammates an earful of how the postseason feels. And last year, it didn’t feel good. The Markers were bounced by rival Ursuline in the semifinals on their own field. Ursuline would knock off St. Joseph Academy’s in penalty kicks to win the district title and eventually finish as the Class 3 runner-up. The Bears were obviously a talented competitor. However, it was hard for the Markers to shake the idea it could have been them playing for the title. Their game with the Bears wasn’t decided until the waning moments. It could have gone either way. Nerinx had a great season last year, but it didn’t feel that way when it was over. “There are a lot of positives in a season, but when you’re a returning player, you remember your last loss,” Haddock says.
That loss has burned those players throughout the offseason and through this spring. Nerinx, a crisp 13-2-3, unleashed itself on its opponents. With a defense that’s suffocating and an opportunistic offense, the Makers earned the No. 1 seed in the district tournament, which will be played this week at Kirkwood.
The rest of the district field is made up of No. 2 seed Kirkwood, No. 3 St. Joe, No. 4 Webster Groves, No. 5 Ursuline and No. 6 Ladue. It’s one of the toughest districts in the state. Kirkwood and Webster Groves are having two of their best seasons. St. Joe started slow but pinned shutout losses on Cor Jesu and Incarnate Word and is in first place in the ultra-competitive Metro Women’s Athletic Association-White Division. Ursuline has battled injuries all season but still has a handful of players back from last year’s runner-up team and a coach in Annie Beekman that’s won multiple championships, albeit with Incarnate Word.
So even though the Markers earned that top seed and the bye that comes with it, they don’t feel comfortable—far from it. “One through five, what makes it tough is (the teams) aren’t that different in talent,” Haddock says. “All six of these teams are comparable.”
Giving the Markers a leg up, though, could be their experience. Nerinx has a plethora of players on its roster that took the field in that final game a year ago. They know how the postseason feels and how much it hurt last year. They’re ready for it. “There are not a lot of green faces,” Haddock says. “And the ones that are have played a lot during the season.”
That’s what the regular season is for—building toward this time of year. Haddock and his coaching staff spent the spring putting players in different positions and combinations to find what worked best. And to give those fresh faces a taste of highintensity soccer. “You build all year for districts. You’d hope that by then you’d have a dead set lineup and your role players can contribute,” Haddock says.
The Markers have all of those things and a year’s worth of frustration to let loose on their opponents. Sometimes less is more. The more you win, the less it hurts.