Photo courtesy of Rick McIntyre and McIntyre Imaging (https://www.mcintyreimaging.com – Twitter @mcintyreimaging – Instagram @mcintyre_imaging)

The 2018 edition of the Covenant Christian Warriors boys soccer team came into the season with a target on their back. Graduating seven seniors, five of which were starters, meant there were some holes to fill. They have worked to overcome those losses by building a close-knit band of brothers and paying attention to the small things every day.

The 2017 season was a magical ride that saw the 1A power go 12-4-1 through a challenging regular season, which culminated in a deep tournament run. This included victories over future conference rivals Heritage Christian and Bishop Chatard. Even their losses were impressive: two tight losses to Cathedral (one in overtime) and a 1-0 loss to Avon proved they could play with the “big boys.” In the end, they came up just a bit short, falling to Fort Wayne Canterbury in the state finals 2-1.

Coming into this season, Coach David Pfeifer knew there would be growing pains but also that he was returning enough talent to be formidable by season’s end.

“While most of our scorers returned, we did lose some distributors and defenders, so we have been counting on some new and returning players to aid in that gap,” said Pfeifer. “It’s neat to see the returners and even some newcomers step up into these roles.”

Perhaps the biggest hole to fill was the one created when Andrew Wagner graduated. Wagner led the ’17 team with 24 assists, with the next closest teammate coming in at 8. Senior Gabe Byrd has done his best to step into that role, earning four assists through the first eight matches. Maclain Hastings, who led the team in scoring last year, is doing so again this season.

The growing pains were somewhat apparent in the early season as the Warriors started off 0-3, dropping games to Danville and conference foes Heritage Christian and Roncalli. It was not until a long road trip to face Clarksville Providence (1-0 victory) that this team’s potential began to be realized.

Including the Providence game, the Warriors are 3-3 over their last six. Aside from the Pioneers, they defeated Plainfield and Bishop Chatard. A 1-0 loss to perennial power Guerin Catholic and a 2-0 defeat to Cathedral also showed signs of significant growth from earlier in the season.

The bottom line is the Warriors have faced two significant issues to this point: 1) a brutal schedule for a 1A team; 2) they are a marked team after last year’s stellar success. Pfeiffer feels both of these obstacles will ultimately benefit his team by the time the tournament rolls around.

“Entering this season, the guys knew a target would be on their backs given the success they had last year, and we’ve certainly felt and seen that early on this season,” Pfeifer said. “We’ve got a tough schedule, but I’ve told the guys, ‘To get better, we need to play teams that are better than us.’ These are character defining moments, and I feel they are stepping up to the challenge.”

One thing Pfeifer is very pleased with is how his boys have gelled as a unit.

“This year’s team seems to be a close-knit group, particularly the seniors. They are really close off the field and are continuing to learn to click more on the field,” said Pfeifer.

Senior captains Noah Martin and Braden Havics agree, citing the guidance they have received from their coach and the work they have done as paying huge dividends.

“Coach Pfeifer took us on a senior camping trip so that we could learn more about one another and that was really beneficial to the upperclassmen,” said Martin.

“The senior class this year has been sticking at it all four years, so we created a bond through that. However, it doesn’t just remain in the senior class,” Havics said. “Things such as everyone riding the bus together even if we can drive, varsity guys staying to watch JV games, devotional groups, team dinners on Fridays, and especially the team overnighter together have brought the team closer and created an atmosphere where everyone is a brother no matter what team you’re on or your experience level.”

They enjoy spending time together away from the field as well.

“A lot of us are big Buffalo Wild Wings fans, so we’ll hit up B-Dubs on a Friday night after practice or the football game. Also, some of the upperclassmen take Goodwill dates and find some nice fits,” said Martin.

The sum of these actions is a self-less group who care deeply for each other.

“Everyone on the team loves each other like a brother, and I couldn’t be happier to enjoy my last season like this,” Havics added.

This type of environment is no accident. Pfeifer takes the school’s mission to heart when shaping his program. The goal is to grow service oriented, faith-centered young men first and foremost.

“Covenant’s mission is to ‘provide an excellent, Christ-centered education, equipping students for a life of scholarship, leadership, and service.’ The boys recognize that soccer isn’t everything. They are coached that it is a platform for growth as young men and to point back to the Creator who blessed them with these gifts,” explained Pfeifer. “As a response, we are called to serve one another (Philippians 2:4), which not only includes themselves as teammates but those they interact with on a day-to-day basis.”

“Being an athlete at Covenant has taught me the most about the character behind being a student-athlete. It’s more than just going to a game and getting a win or a less,” said Havics. “It’s about maintaining composure on and off the field, understanding the other guys on the other teams are working hard at the same thing I’m doing, having a positive attitude when things aren’t how I want them, and in general, how to respect others at all times.

“I’m extremely grateful for my time at Covenant, and it’s been crucial to my development as a player, student, and believer,” Martin attested.

When it comes to coaching style, Pfeifer keeps it simple but focused.

“To me, the small things matter. Paying attention to detail and doing things with excellence is what I try to instill in the boys,” Pfeifer explained. “I remind them that soccer isn’t everything, but that it’s an incredible platform to develop as young men, to grow in their relationship with Christ, and to have fun; but this comes through discipline and hard work both on and off the field. While winning isn’t everything, I view it as a byproduct of the effort put forth in the day to day grind. ”

These lessons are resonating with his charges.

“As for having Pfeifer as a coach, he has personally taught me how to be accountable,” added Havics. “He challenges us to be mature with our decisions, while at the same time having fun as well.”

“Coach Pfeifer has played a major role in my development, and he’s been there alongside me and the rest of the guys through the past two seasons. Because of him, I’ve learned a lot about being a leader and being prepared,” Martin said.

True to the program’s vision, Covenant soccer players spent the summer giving back and serving others. Byrd spent time in Brazil on a mission trip. Senior Jacob Susud and sophomore Caleb Crane also served youth domestically this summer in San Diego, CA through SportQuest.

“It’s great that some of these guys are taking advantage of the service ministries over the summer, but I hope that they continue to learn that service can happen daily!” said Pfeifer.

As the season quickly winds to a close, there are two goals on the horizon. The City Alliance tournament will begin play on September 22, with the Warriors hoping to avenge their earlier tight losses to Cathedral (both this season and in last year’s championship). After that, it is on to the big dance.

“Our team really wants to make a deep run again in the playoffs this year. A lot of the guys are ready to avenge last years loss!” said Martin.

“Once we start running on all cylinders, we will certainly be a tough competitor throughout the remainder of the season,” Pfeifer said.

The next fifteen days will provide ample opportunity for the Warriors to work out the kinks. After finishing with Lawrence Central, Brebeuf Jesuit, Speedway, and Avon, they will be more than prepared to face the best that 1A has to offer come October.