CRYSTAL LAKE – When Jay Mueller took over as Crystal Lake South girls soccer head coach at the beginning of this season, he knew he had a group that could do something special.
The first-year coach led the Gators to 13 wins and had the area's most consistent team all season. Crystal Lake South had a streak of 14 games where it did not lose, something that Mueller attributes to a strong defense, but more importantly, taking advantage of opportunities.
"I think, whenever you have a long streak like that, your defense is a huge part," Mueller said. "We really stressed finishing opportunities that we had, and once you combine those two, you can be a pretty tough team to beat."
Despite losing defender Audrey Collard, the Northwest Herald Player of the Year, and several other girls to graduation for next year, Mueller is confident that his program will stay at a competitive level. Mueller has a good relationship with his players, which led to strong team communication and overall team success.
"As much as we had strong senior leadership this year, we also had some younger girls step up," he explained. "I really liked what I've seen from our younger teams as well. I'm very confident in what we can do in the future."
No team can win and be successful with just the coach. Mueller stressed that as much as he taught and instructed his girls, they were the ones out of the field making things happen. Several times this season, Mueller was forced to make adjustments throughout the game, and his girls responded strongly.
"I think his willingness to change things throughout the season, based on how we were feeling, was key to our success," Collard said. "He truly loved and cared about our team and that made this season just that much better."
Mueller talked a lot of about how adjustments and on the fly changes were about the girls. When the team felt something needed to be changed, he would make that a focal point of their following training sessions.
Because of their success this season, many of the younger Gators got experience and saw what needed to be done to have success. Mueller thinks that although his seniors have graduated, this class has left their mark on the program.
"The girls coming back really got a taste of the intensity it takes to play on this level," Mueller said. "Our departing seniors provided great leadership that will help us have success in the future."