Cullman High School soccer coach Casey Harbin, right, speaks with a player during a recent practice. The Bearcats' season kicks off Feb. 12 against Grissom. / Nick Griffin
CULLMAN – Soccer season is rapidly approaching for the Cullman Bearcats and this year’s squad, led by head coach Casey Harbin, is preparing for another tile run in 2018.
Since taking over as the ‘Cats’ head coach in 2012, Harbin has taken Cullman to a final four appearance in 2012, brought home a state championship in 2016 and come up one game short of the title last year. Cullman also made a final four appearance in 2010 with Harbin serving as interim head coach for the second half of the season.
Bearcat Soccer often goes under the radar this time of the year, but the team is quietly seeking its third straight appearance in the state championship game. Harbin hasn’t changed his philosophy much since year one and has spent the offseason getting his players ready for the long season just around the corner.
“Well you don’t change much when you’re making championship games,” Harbin joked. “It’s mostly just trying to find the balance of getting them physically in shape for the season and having them mentally prepared for the year. The biggest challenge is making sure you don’t burn them out. In the fall all we can do is run and condition so the big thing there is just to balance between getting them in shape and avoiding burnouts so they’re mentally ready to go for the season.”
Harbin credits a lot of the ‘Cats’ recent success to his assistant coaches and the way they are all able to work together as a staff to get everything accomplished in both the offseason and the regular season.
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the other two coaches that we have, Andrew Arbet and Bryan Patrick; (I) couldn’t do it without them,” Harbin said. “Andrew is really the X’s and O’s strategic guy; that’s not to say I can’t do that stuff either, but he’s the brains of the operation. My main job is to clear everything for him and just let him focus on coaching.”
The Bearcats often make trips to compete in tournaments during the regular season and they’ll continue that practice this season with trips to Vestavia and Florence. Those tournaments, on top of the ‘Cats’ regular season schedule, will make for a tough slate of competition in the leadup to the postseason.
“We’ll go to two tournaments this year; we’ll play in an invitational at Vestavia and then we’ll play in a Florence tournament that we’ve been playing in ever since I’ve been coaching,” Harbin said. “Usually we play at Lakeshore the first weekend of the year, but this year we didn’t because I’ve made probably the hardest schedule I’ve ever made for this group. I looked at it and said if we play at Lakeshore we’re going to play a bunch of teams that we’re going to play during the regular season. Generally, we’ll go play in a tournament just to vary it up, to get to play teams that we never usually would.”
Harbin said he’s liked what he has seen from his team after the first week of practice and uses last season’s disappointing finish to keep them motivated.
“People ask about the squad all year long and I always tell them, we don’t know anything. We don’t know what it’s going to be like until January hits, until we start practicing. We’re only one week through practice so I don’t want to look like an idiot down the road, but this first week of practice has probably been the best first week of practice I’ve ever seen as a coach,” Harbin said. “The boys are focused, they’re doing all the things that we ask of them, they’re doing a lot of small things correctly. That’s what I’ve been telling them for the last year; we lost the championship game last year because we didn’t do the small things right. Right now, they’re doing the small things right, and you know it’s the first week so all of that can change, but I told them, if they can continue this, if they can keep this kind of practicing up, they will be very good this year.”
Cullman will kick off its 2018 title run on Feb.12 on the road against the Grissom Tigers.
Copyright 2018 Humble Roots, LLC. All Rights Reserved.