The early part of any season offers new coaches a chance to evaluate their squads and figure things out before games start coming thick and fast on the schedule.
That was a luxury that the McDonell/Regis boys soccer team didn’t have this fall. After coach Kyle Skipton left his role following last year, the Saints hired Aleem Abdul to take the reigns for the 2017 season.
Unfortunately, Abdul needed to step down in the first few days of the campaign due to health reasons, leaving the Saints without a coach with the season already underway. They stayed that way for the better part of two weeks in late August.
That’s when Joe Cash came into the equation. After moving to the area last October, he has served as a coach for club team Eau Claire United and heard about the opening through the coaching grapevine.
“One of the coaches that I coach with just kind of grapevine-told me about the opening, and I talked to the athletic director. They needed a coach pretty quick,” Cash said.
In short order, he got the job and was tasked with coaching a team that was relatively unknown to him on the fly. Some outside help made things a little easier for him, though.
“I was really fortunate, Zach’s (Yengo) father is the (club) coach at UW-Eau Claire, so our first game—literally the day I was hired, we had a game that night—he was kind enough to sit on the sideline,” Cash said.
“He knew kind of who’s who in the zoo and helped me out with identifying folks.
Despite the lack of stability in the first few weeks of the season, the Saints are off to a good start. They’re 3-2-1 following Saturday’s tournament at Three Lakes in which they finished as runner-up after losing the title game on penalty kicks. They blanked Spooner 3-0 on Tuesday in Cash’s second game in charge.
“For a group to not only hold it together, but to come out of it with good chemistry like they have I think that’s a testament to their leadership,” Cash said.
That leadership has been one of the biggest factors in the team’s early success according to Cash.
“I can really say that this group of boys, we’ve got five seniors and I’ve had to do very little as far as getting them where they need to be, what they need to be doing, that kind of thing. So that’s been a tremendous help and kind of freed me up to digest it all and take it all in,” he said.
There are still challenges to overcome though. At a time when other coaches have a solid handle on their teams and might feel more comfortable establishing the way they want to play, Cash is still just trying to get to know everyone on the team.
“Even now, a week in I’m still learning names, so it’s been a challenge,” he said.
The situation could have been even tougher. The team had a week between games when Cash took over, allowing him to spend a decent amount of time in practice figuring things out.
“The good thing was we’ve had a week in between, so I’ve had some time to practice with the boys and see where they’re at, see who’s who. That’s helped a lot, but it’s still a daily challenge right now,” he said.
The Saints are looking to build on a 2016 season in which they reached the Division 4 regional finals. Players returning from that team have taken a more pronounced role in the squad, both on and off the field.
“It’s just leadership. There’s a heavy dose of leadership,” Cash said of the team’s strengths. “The guys seem to do a really good job of policing their own, so I’ve been really pleased with that. Just to step in and to see that, especially...(considering) they went the better part of two weeks without a coach.”