Building a sports program takes time when you are a coach at a relatively new school. Just ask Philip Simmons High School’s Jay Watterworth, who coaches the girls’ soccer team.
The first year the school opened, interest just wasn’t there, so the Iron Horses fielded a co-ed team. The next year, Watterworth had a junior varsity team to coach, and finally in 2020, the Iron Horses had enough players to field a varsity team.
The team began 2020 with a 3-0 record, outscoring foes 29-0. But then the sports world shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Iron Horses’ premier season was history.
“The saving grace was that we had no seniors on the team,” said Watterworth, who also coaches the volleyball team. “It was tough for everybody.”
The Iron Horses stormed back at the beginning of the 2021 season. They posted three consecutive victories to begin the season. But having such a young team means growing pains as the team dropped three straight. The Iron Horses lost to perennial SCISA state powers Pinewood Prep and Porter-Gaud, two schools that should meet in the SCISA Class AAA state championship. The Iron Horses also lost to Bishop England, a team that is usually in the top five among High School League teams that compete at the Class AAA level.
“That’s some tough competition,” said Watterworth, whose team lost to Pinewood in overtime. “It’s what the girls wanted, and it was what we wanted. These teams play very well and are well-coached. This will help us prepare for region play and the playoffs.”
Watterworth is a stickler for detail on the hardwood court and the pitch of the soccer field. Practices include intense drills that prepare his players mentally and physically so they are ready for the challenges that an opponent can present.
The team roster includes 19 players, but there is still room to grow. This spring PSHS did not field a junior varsity team, but that should change in 2022.
Watterworth points out the Iron Horses have had success in girls’ sports. Both the volleyball and basketball teams reached the Lower State championship this academic year while the track and field team should contend for the state title. That helps him recruit players at the school.
“Having success in other girls sports is huge,” Watterworth said. “At first, some of the girls were apprehensive, perhaps because they wanted something that was established. Now, we see a big difference, a different mindset.”
Senior forward Alexandra Ugan leads the Iron Horses with seven goals while Claire Esse is right behind with six goals.
Goalie Aidan Carpen has shown promise at times. She is a senior and the team’s only goalie, so Watterworth’s to-do list is cultivating players who can play the position.
Another player who has been a steadying force is Kylee Kellermann, who is a talented athlete. She earned all-state status in basketball and is a player who never comes out of the soccer matches.
Watterworth believes his team can make a deep playoff run. But he knows that an opponent or the pandemic can cut the season short.
“We have the talent,” he said. “We have to stay healthy.”