After making the state semifinals last year, the Clarkdale boys soccer team wanted to accomplish even more this past winter.
The Bulldogs did just that, making it to the MHSAA Class I state title game after going 8-0 in their division during the regular season, and Bulldogs head coach Luke Smith was named the Premier Preps 2020-21 boys soccer Coach of the Year after leading the school to its first championship-game berth in boys soccer.
“It feels good,” Smith said. “I need to give all the credit to the guys. They really came out and outperformed what a lot of people thought we could do. We expected to go that far, but I don’t know if anyone else did. They came out, worked hard and did exactly what I was expecting of them.”
The semifinal berth last year served to put Clarkdale on the map going into this season, and Smith said there were times where it felt like his team was the hunted instead of the hunter like it was a year ago. The Bulldogs used the momentum from last year to carry them to the state title round in early February before ending the season with a 1-0 overtime loss to St. Andrew’s Episcopal.
“I pretty much told them after South State last year that I thought we should be in the state championship game this year,” Smith said. “I knew the teams we beat in the South were graduating a lot of good players, and I just felt like we were the team to beat in the South. I think we showed that we were, and I knew St. Andrew’s would be a tough game at state, and they came out and played well and just got the best of us.”
When looking back, Smith said one of the biggest keys for the Bulldogs was their team chemistry, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think they were all just so close,” Smith said. “A lot of them hang out outside of practice, and I think that really helps build unity within the team. We really didn’t play together all that much (during the regular season) with different quarantines and people being out with COVID, so I think their relationship outside of the field probably helped us the most.”