Thompson Boys Soccer Becoming an Elite Program
Don’t look now, but Thompson’s boys soccer team only has one loss in their last 19 matches.
The success didn’t happen overnight, far from it. When Dan DeMasters was brought over from Oak Mountain to oversee Thompson’s soccer program and tapped one of the best players in THS history, Rusty Cowley, to lead the boys’ team there was great excitement about what was next for soccer in Alabaster.
Now, that excitement has been justified.
Cowley and the Warriors were having an incredible bounce back year in 2020 going 12-1-1 before the COVID-19 pandemic ended it prematurely, but the boys have picked up right where they left off going an undefeated 4-0-1 to start the 2021 season. They’re also rocketing up the 7A state rankings currently sitting at no. 4 and proved they are no fluke playing to a 0-0 tie with no. 3 Spain Park just a few days ago.
Thompson’s 2020 squad rose as high as sixth in the polls and featured eight seniors--five of which had been in the program since middle school. Many of them switched positions and fought for years for a spot on the varsity squad. Years of toil, sweat and dedication wiped out in an instant. It was a crushing moment for Cowley in his young coaching career, but most of the pain he felt was for his players.
“I think disappointment is probably the best word to describe what our players and coaching staff felt when last season was officially cancelled. That group of seniors had worked so hard over their 4 years, through summer and 6 a.m. workouts, to get to a point of competing with the best in the state and to have it taken away in one fell swoop was really disappointing.”
However, it would not be the last time that special group would leave their mark on the program—and Cowley saw to that. It became a valuable, teachable moment in which they would be able to influence their younger peers to seize and appreciate the moment, rather than take it for granted.
“They've definitely been more accepting of what's asked of them because they know it can be taken away at any point in time,” says Cowley. “To get that point across, I held Zoom interviews with each of our seniors from last season and gave them a chance to talk to this year's group, so I think seeing those guys and hearing their words really underlined the potential that you can work so hard and can lose an opportunity in an instant.”
Despite the tragedy of a lost season, Coach Cowley used the polarizing time to drive home the main tenets of his program and define what will drive the team moving forward.
“We sat down in preseason and rather than just writing down goals and leaving it, we looked at why we show up every day first and foremost,” says Cowley. “So I asked our guys why they put themselves through what they do. And what they came up with was that they show up for each other. They push each other to be better, they celebrate together, and they protect each other come game time. They've shown so far that they can compete with some top teams, it's just gonna be a matter of continuing to show up for each other.”
So far, the team’s dedication to one another is showing and it started with offseason preparation. The participation has been excellent as the team values translate to improvement on the pitch.
“Our Christmas break workouts had almost everyone at every session, so I think we're just grateful to be back on the field doing what we all love,” says Cowley. “We always talk about we get to practice today, not we have to practice today as a mindset we want to have, and these guys are taking that to heart after what happened last year.”
Fortunately, many of the Warriors combine club ball with other training in the fall to keep their skills sharp, but for Cowley it’s been close to a calendar year since he coached a game. Getting back into his coaching routine has been refreshing to say the least and allowed him to refocus his own priorities.
“For me, having not coached in a game since last March, it was definitely a reminder of why we do what we do. There's so much that goes into a game, the practices and scouting leading up to it, the rollercoaster of goals or calls for and against throughout a match. It helps to have a positive start and get some results early on, but as much as the players enjoy getting to play, we as coaches enjoy being along for the ride.”
Buckle up. Thompson soccer is gassed up with their eyes set on the finish line.