Lions finish soccer season with a roar

Photo by Gary Manly/Cottage Grove Sentinel

The Lions’ soccer program had a very successful season this year, coming in third place in the Sky-Em League with a record of 5-3-1. Coach Vern Stewart discussed some of the season’s highlights, as well as key factors important to him as a high school soccer coach.

“Our season was kind of mixed,” said Stewart. “Being a short season, you’re trying as a coach to get as much out of it as you can. The seniors, this is their last hurrah, and they were robbed out of their normal season — so you try to make it as normal as you possibly can.”

Stewart certainly gave it his all this season as their coach, and the Lions were quite a team to follow this season. However, winning was only a portion of what Stewart spent his time coaching the kids to do. 

“One of the main things I always tell my guys is that every game is only 80 minutes, but it’s all the other time you spend with your teammates and friends that really makes it something that you’re going to remember,” Stewart said. “It’s the journey as opposed to just that final destination — because if you’re making the journey important, that destination is going to be that much sweeter. The people that win games and championships, if they don’t enjoy getting there, it’s very short-lived.”

Team camaraderie is vital to Stewart. For him, the success of the program is dependent upon the enjoyment of the kids in the long run.

“As a high school coach, you don’t have the luxury of selection,” said Stewart. “You are getting the kids that are coming to your school and going from there. So, it’s important as a coach to develop a strong program regardless of who comes in; you may not win state championships, but that’s not what’s important to me as a high school coach. My importance is for the kids to have the best experience that they possibly can.”

Stewart also acknowledged that in a short season like the one they just experienced, there isn’t as much time to create the connections a coach normally would in a full season. However, Stewart and his team absolutely made the best of the situation, and still managed to have a winning season.

This season, the Lions had three total shutout games, winning 8-0 against Junction City, Siuslaw, and Elmira at different points in the season, as well as two other very comfortable wins and a tie to go along with three losses.

“The first meeting against Marist, that was a humbling experience,” Stewart admitted. “But then we came back, and we played one of our best games that we’ve played.”

Stewart is truly proud of his team — and he should be. He has developed a program where the players genuinely care for each other and are in each other’s corners regardless of whether they win or lose.

“After we were finished playing and we lost our last game against Marshfield,” he said. “One of the coaches who rode the bus said you would have thought that we had just won the state championship with the amount of singing that was going on.”

Then, when he got home, Stewart said he got a call asking if the team could practice the next day.

“I said, ‘Guys, but it’s over!’ But we ended up going out and practicing the next day,” said Stewart. “It wasn’t a practice really, we just basically split the teams up and had two hours of fun kicking the ball around.

“But they didn’t want it to end. So, that’s what a good program is all about.”

It is no surprise that Stewart continues to run the program at Cottage Grove. As a unit, they are clearly strong.

“I guess at my age, that’s what keeps me coming back,” said Stewart. “I know all of the other things will dissolve and come to an end; all good things have to come to an end at some point in time, but the memories that I have — I can go back to so many things, and so many personalities of different teams that I’ve had the privilege of coaching. And every one of them is unique.”

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