When he took over the program three years ago, there wasn’t really a program.
There was a title, sure. Dan Mulcahy: Oakdale High School boys soccer coach. But that was about it. That and a group of wide-eyed freshmen and sophomores preparing to embark on the school’s inaugural soccer season.
That’s when Mulcahy, who joined Oakdale after serving as the junior varsity coach at Urbana, made a difficult decision. His Bears, despite being comprised entirely of 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds, would play a varsity schedule.
Naturally, the team took its lumps in that first season by playing 13 of 14 varsity matches. They did the next season, too, losing in the first round of the playoffs.
“That first year, I knew it was going to be a struggle,” Mulcahy said. “The last thing you want to do is go out and watch your kids lose and to have to deal with that look on their face over and over again. But it was about trying to instill the belief that they could compete.”
Now Oakdale has seniors for the first time in school history — a group of 13 players Mulcahy calls “The Founding Fathers.” There are 17 players are on the roster who have been with the Bears since Day 1.
Things have changed since that first season. Including scrimmages, Oakdale is 6-1-2 and the players say the Bears are finally garnering the attention they’ve wanted for two-plus seasons.
“I’ve received a few very, very nice compliments from some of my coaching colleagues about how they thought I’ve done a good job bringing them up,” Mulcahy said. “At this point, until we start knocking off the Urbanas and Tuscaroras of the world, though, we’re flying under the radar.”
The Bears are led by three senior captains: brothers Josh and Jonah Loveless and Brandon Givens.
“It’s been a lot of fun actually figuring out that everything that we’ve been working toward is coming together,” Josh said. “This is the year we’ve been waiting for.”
Now in their third year together, the players have had plenty of time to bond. From things as simple as going out for chicken wings after victories to spending the entire summer working out to chatting on long bus rides home.
“We watched each other grow and develop,” Josh said. “We all know each other like the back of our hand. We’ve been forced to know each other well.”
Mulcahy said he’s surprised at how loose the group is while interacting, even before crucial matches. All of it is formed from the unique experience of building a program together.
“I always knew that we were going to keep getting better and better,” Givens said. “This year, I think schools are finally starting to get ready to play us. It makes me proud of my team. Now we’re not a joke anymore.”
It hasn’t always been easy for the Bears, though. Being that the players aged together, questions of leadership have been difficult.
“It’s cool that I’m one of the first [senior captains], but I also miss being able to look up to older seniors,” Jonah said. “It’s not like normal high school, but I understand that. It’s just sometimes I don’t know if I’m too light or too hard on the team.”
Oakdale doesn’t give the impression of being a third-year club. Their uniforms are sharp, their equipment bags are identical. The team walks into matches together and runs warmup drills with precision. All of this is the product of Mulcahy and his staff instituting the same team principles from the beginning. Now that his players know what’s required of them, it frees up more time to focus on tactics.
Even the team’s digital presence is astounding. The Bears have a Twitter page, Facebook profile and a personalized team website with results, rosters and coaches’ notes.
“The senior class has bought in to the program,” Mulcahy said. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have to do very little reminding of what our program policies are. Creating that culture of a top-down unified front, whether it’s JV or varsity, has become second nature.”
Big matches against Urbana and Frederick await the Bears in October. For now, though, the end is already too close for Mulcahy and his group of seniors.
“I don’t even like to think about the end of the season just because I’m having so much fun and having such a good time with these boys,” Mulcahy said. “The end seems almost unreal. I can’t believe how quickly it’s gone.
“Just meeting these fresh-faced kids and being like, ‘Holy hell, where do we go from here?’ It’s been real special. They’re going to be missed.”