Brookland-Cayce soccer coach Kevin Heise was working with one of his players when he realized how long it had been since his Bearcats had played for a state championship.
“The last time we were in the championship, this kid was 2- or 3-years old,” Heise said.
So when the Bearcats face Eastside (20-0) on Saturday in the Class 3A championship game at River Bluff, they will not be playing just for themselves.
“We always said, whenever we win the championship, it’s for every Bearcat, every team that has been part of the history of this program,” Heise said.
The Bearcats have been on the brink plenty since their title game appearances in 2001 and 2002. Brookland-Cayce reached the semifinals in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
This season, Heise said, former Bearcats turned out to Brookland-Cayce games and practices to show support and offer encouragement.
“It motivates us to keep pushing, and it’s making us want to win more,” senior captain Tyler Brazzell said. “We knew coming in that this was going to be our year.”
The Bearcats have been pressing for a championship since before the season began.
“We talked about it a little bit as a team, and I let them know it was okay to dream,” Heise said. But he also warned them that it could be an uphill battle.
Heise had lined up a rigorous schedule of preseason scrimmages, tournaments and non-conference games that would test the Bearcats’ fortitude. The 14-game stretch included games against power teams such as Northwestern, Bishop England, Academic Magnet and eventual SCISA 3A champion Cardinal Newman.
“I told the guys we could come out of that with a not-good record,” Heise said.
Instead, the Bearcats were 11-2-1, losing to J.L. Mann and Wando – teams that are facing each other for the Class 4A championship Saturday.
Senior captain Aaron Davis said, “I loved it. I wanted to play the toughest schedule possible to get us ready for this point.”
When the Bearcats rallied from one goal down twice to defeat Chapin 5-4 at the end of that stretch, Davis and his teammates were heartened.
Heise also was convinced.
“That’s when I thought this team was going to be pretty danged good, because we just went through the gauntlet and did really, very well,” Heise said.
Brookland-Cayce rolled through the Region 5-3A schedule undefeated and arrives at the championship game with a 24-3-1 record.
The key, the coach said, has been the leadership from Davis and Brazzell, along with the maturity and focus that comes with having seven seniors and seven juniors.
Heise said his team of “blue-collar soccer players” is a hard-working, resilient bunch, “And hopefully, they get the ultimate reward this Saturday,” Heise said.
Davis said his team enters the championship confident.
“We believe we are good enough to win, and we just don’t quit,” he said.