It was the day before National Pancake Day, and so the Pinecrest Academy girls’ soccer team broke down practice in fitting fashion.
"Pancakes on three," they said.
"One. Two. Three. Pancakes!"
The Lady Paladins dispersed, but head coach Chris Kane remained.
One practice down, one more to go.
"It’s hectic," Kane said. "This last couple of months has been crazy and it won’t end until May. But it will be worth it."
Indeed, perhaps by then Kane’s return to Pinecrest Academy soccer after a one-season hiatus will have ended in school history.
Those are the goals the Paladins soccer program has set for itself. For the girls’ team, it would mean making its first appearance in the state tournament since the school joined the Georgia High School Association in 2010. For the boys’ team, it would mean improving on last season’s Class A second round appearance.
Both teams have reason to believe those goals are attainable.
Already the girls’ team has matched its win totals from last season and 2012. The Lady Paladins are 3-2-0 overall and 1-0-0 in Region 6-A. They have a dynamic scorer in senior center midfielder Ansley Heard, a solid goalkeeper in senior and Georgia Southern signee Amanda Boyd and improved talent across the lineup in juniors Jessica Satriano and Eleni Athenson, sophomore Caroline Brenner and freshman Mary Margaret Metz.
"I think everybody’s just more motivated," Heard said. "Our coach gives us pump-speeches before the game, really inspirational speeches."
Already the boys’ team has notched a signature win with a 2-0 shutout of No. 8-ranked Walker, the 2012 state champions, thanks to goals by Stephane Rivard and Rico Victoria and eight saves by freshman goalkeeper Joe Meersman making his first career start. Pinecrest has a core of leaders in seniors Alex Brenner and Michael and Pat Houlihan.
"We’re feeling good," Pat Houlihan said. "We have a lot of technical skill in the midfield and our backline is strong. … We’re looking pretty good. We have some new talent on the team and we’re looking to keep doing what we’re doing."
And both teams also feel emboldened by the presence of Kane.
A fixture at Pinecrest since 2008, Kane stepped aside as boys head coach last season. While the girls struggled through a 3-7 season, the boys’ team went 5-4-2 under Tom McCabe to reach its first GHSA state tournament. The Paladins defeated Lakeview Academy in the first round before losing to eventual state champion Paideia in the second round.
Pinecrest asked Kane to return to the sidelines, this time as head coach for both teams.
"I love the kids," Kane said. "It’s Pinecrest. We’re embedded in this place."
It was only one year, so Kane’s transition back hasn’t been daunting. The juniors and seniors on the boys’ team were freshmen and sophomores when Kane last coached them. Kane coached the seniors on the girls’ team when they were freshmen. He’s even familiar with some of Pinecrest’s newer talent from his time coaching on the club level.
Kane didn’t feel he had as much work to do on the field as he did with the teams’ confidence, though in distinct ways for each team.
"The boys on one side, sometimes it’s that they’re going to have to work a little harder to gel," Kane said. "The girls don’t have to work hard to gel. They just have to work harder than other teams."
Players have relished Kane’s return.
"We love him," Heard said. "We respect him so much as a coach. He just makes us want to work for him. When he talks to us, you want to do well because you want to make him happy."
"It’s great," Houlihan said. "Coach McCabe was great last year, but Coach Kane really knows what he’s doing. It’s good to have him back after a year."
Kane, he said, has relished it, too.
"It’s going to be exciting," Kane said. "The girls have never made the state playoffs. We set that as our goal this year to get there. The boys made it for the first time last year, but I don’t think they were satisfied with that. We’ll see how far we can get."