Making a championship game has been a long time coming for Dreher coach David Kleinfelder.
With Dreher’s win over Chapin in Tuesday’s Upper State championship, the coach earned his first trip to soccer state championships in his 36-year career.
Kleinfelder will lead Dreher, 20-2 and the league’s No. 2 ranked team, in the SCHSL Class 3A girls state final against Hilton Head Island (21-4) on Friday at River Bluff.
Kleinfelder, a wrestler in high school, became a soccer coach when he started at Dreher in 1976. After 12 seasons, he moved to Lexington and coached boys soccer for 12 years. He returned to Dreher in 2003, and has coached the girls’ tennis and soccer teams.
“I’ve been coaching a long time. I’ve had teams get to the semifinals, Upper State and Lower State, but this is the first time I’ve had a team reach the state championship,” said Kleinfelder, whose team last reached the Lower State final in 2005.
A smile played at the corners of his mouth as he talked about setting the team’s schedule for championship day. But for the Blue Devils’ coach, he said “there’s not a lot of time to be excited, with the game on Friday.”
“This is what he’s worked for his whole life,” Dreher athletics director Mike DuBard said. “He’s coached boys and girls soccer, and all ages, and I think he’s won like 448 soccer games, I can’t be certain of the number. But that’s quite an accomplishment. So he’s got to be excited.”
His players can barely tell.
Three-time all-state forward Kasey Parker said, “It’s really hard to tell with him. He always tells us, ‘When I was a wrestler, my coaches told me not to smile.’ So he says he just doesn’t smile a lot, but you can kind of tell how excited he is for this next game.”
“He does a good job of staying calm when he’s really excited on the inside because he wants us to stay focused on the goal of winning state and not get too caught up in the moment,” said all-state midfielder Kirsty Ellinger. “But there was a little glimmer in his eyes last night, I think.”
“He just walks around talking a lot, and you can tell by how he’s talking to everybody. I know he’s excited,” Parker said.
DuBard said Kleinfelder is keeping a straight face, “In order to keep the girls focused. He’s trying to do everything he can to keep them on track before the championship game. He’s an old-school coach. He’s pretty serious about soccer and he’s got high expectations.”
And the Blue Devils have done well to meet those expectations this season.
“There seemed to be a good chemistry and a lot of talent. We don’t have a lot of seniors; we have six freshmen that have fit in very well, and we had a pretty solid nucleus from last year,” Kleinfelder said. “So from the beginning, I’ve been talking to them, that we need to really work on having confidence that we could be really good.
“There’s been a lot of years where you beg, borrow and plead for goals here and there, and the one thing this team has been able to do is score goals,” he said. “We just had the ability to go get the ball and work with it and put it in the back of the net.”
The Blue Devils have scored 150 goals, led by Parker’s 53. Sam Shaw leads the team in assists with 19, and Ellinger has 14. And with Gracie Barrineau and Kailey Addison in goal, Dreher has posted 14 shutouts and allowed just 13 goals.
“At the beginning of the year, they had us ranked third in the region, and like sixth or seventh in the state. That put a lot of fire under us to do better,” said Parker, a junior.
“He’s definitely taught us a lot about how to stay focused and stay in the game when we don’t have a lot left,” Ellinger said.
“All of his experience has just put him in a place where, you just can’t not listen to him. He knows what he’s talking about, and he’s a big believer in just being focused,” Parker said. “I just really hope we win and make him proud.”
And then, he will not be able to contain his excitement.
“I think you’ll see a big smile after the game if he wins,” Dubard said.
All games at River Bluff High
Class 4A: J.L. Mann vs. Wando, 7 p.m.
Class 3A: Dreher vs. Hilton Head, 5 p.m.
Class 2A: Christ Church vs. Academic Magnet, 3 p.m.
Class 4A: J.L. Mann vs. Wando, 6 p.m.
Class 3A: A.C. Flora vs. St. James, 3:30 p.m.
Class 2A: Indian Land vs. Academic Magnet, 1:30 p.m.
Class A: St. Joseph’s vs. Governor’s School, 11:30 a.m.