There are many things that make this year’s Irmo Yellow Jackets soccer team special.
Not the least of which is it is the last under coach Phil Savitz.
Savitz’s career on the Irmo sidelines ends on Saturday at Gilbert, as the Yellow Jackets play in their 23rd state championship game in his 33-year tenure.
“But the emphasis doesn’t need to be on coach Savitz’s last game,” he said. “The team, I think, is working very hard to make it special, but we don’t even talk about it.”
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As the team began preparing for the 2013 season, Savitz was being courted for the coaching position at River Bluff High, which will open in August. On Feb. 21, he accepted the position.
The team had known Savitz’s departure was a possibility, but the confirmation changed the complexion of the season.
“It put a strange twist to it,” said Hayley Gossett, mother of senior Madison Gossett. “As a parent of a senior, I was thankful that we got to finish out the whole career with coach Savitz, and it made it special to be his last group.”
A week later, the Yellow Jackets began their final season under Savitz with three consecutive losses.
But Savitz never doubted this team’s capabilities.
“You don’t ever doubt in your philosophy, when you’ve done things one way long enough, so we knew that we were doing the right things, guiding them in the right direction,” he said.
Having lost 13 seniors from the previous year, Savitz and the Yellow Jackets knew they might be facing an uphill battle.
One thing Savitz did not do, Mrs. Gossett said, is pressure his team to perform because it is his final season.
“I just know that he has put unbelievable faith in their heads and they couldn’t have done it without him. He’s just made them believe in themselves,” she said.
The Yellow Jackets recovered and won their region, but lost the final four games of the season before powering through the Upper State playoff bracket.
“I think it just made them even more determined to show people that’s not the team they were,” Mrs. Gossett said.
That gumption, Savitz said, is what makes this team so special. But though he has not focused on his impending milestone, Savitz cannot help but mark off the “last times” that pass as the season draws to a close.
“I realized yesterday when we took the goals down that it would be the last time I do that,” Savitz said. “It’s sinking in that a lot of things we do, we won’t do together anymore.”
The coach admits he has envisioned what his final moments on a soccer field with the Yellow Jackets will entail.
“There’s nothing I would love more than to be celebrating with these guys, to be hanging medals around their necks,” Savitz said