Constructing a perennial soccer powerhouse at a private school of about 700 students requires adaptability and versatility.
One year after making history by winning both the boys and girls state championships in the TAPPS Division III classification — when each team beat Schertz John Paul on the same March afternoon in Round Rock — Covenant faced a daunting challenge in trying to repeat.
“We had to shift our mindset to being the defending champions,” said Covenant boys coach Jerry Clark. “That was last year. Now we have the bullseye on our back.”
Clark arrived last year to take over a program that had advanced to the state title game in four straight years, with one victory in 2018.
“When I took over, the expectations were already high,” he said. “Our approach wasn’t to change the model. We wanted to embrace the winning culture and traditions that were already established.”
It hasn’t been easy. Roster turnover, scheduling conflicts for multisport athletes, and instilling championship expectations all have been potential hurdles. However, the Knights have used an assortment of playing styles and formations while the players have been willing to learn.
Perhaps more importantly, Covenant has stayed relatively healthy, which enabled the Knights to navigate a rugged nondistrict schedule designed to pay off during postseason play.
“We always want to challenge ourselves. That keeps us ready,” Clark said. “With every run to the finals, things have to line up in your favor.”
The girls likewise appear in solid position to duplicate their success from a year ago, especially given the return of scoring sensation Kaitlin Swann, who shattered a school record with 51 goals last season as a sophomore.
Still, a year removed from the program’s first-ever title, girls coach Kirk Redding knows that consistent success is about building depth and garnering buy-in from the entire roster.
“We don’t want to be just about one player,” Redding said. “We want our best players to help our other players get better too.”
The Knights lost six seniors after last year, and a younger roster struggled while playing against larger schools earlier this season. They tried to remain upbeat through some lopsided losses.
“Starting off, we didn’t look great. We had to figure things out,” he said. “It took a few games to get going. Things started to come together.”
Indeed, Covenant started rolling in the second half of the season, despite playing in a district that Redding considers the toughest in the state at the Division III level.
“The expectation is to get back,” he said. “We have a pretty good chance.”