Stephen Horn doesn’t want credit for snapping the Wetumpka boys soccer program’s streak of six seasons without a playoff berth.
Horn stepped in as the Indians’ head coach this season after former coach Desmond Knight left to take a job with Valiant Cross Academy in Montgomery, Alabama, and guided Wetumpka to its first postseason since 2015.
But with Wetumpka beating cross-town rival Stanhope Elmore 5-3 Saturday in a de facto play-in match for tournament competition, Horn said the credit belongs with his players.
“The seniors were the biggest factor,” Horn said. “It wasn’t even close. Kind of upsetting, a lot of people think that it’s on me for some reason. I know it probably looks like that, but these kids, they’re pretty special.”
Now that the team’s playoff drought has been washed away, Horn will be turning to his seniors again to put forth a relaxed, motivated effort against Class 6A Area 6 champion Pelham in the first round of the playoffs Thursday.
“They got first in their area, we got second in ours,” Horn said. “They’re probably thinking, ‘Alright, well, this is basically a bye week for us.’ So you’ve gotta come out with a chip on your shoulder and really take it to them early on.”
Wetumpka opened its season with a 4-3 loss against Chilton County, who finished the season with a 3-12-1 record.
Horn referred to it as the Indians’ lowest point in their campaign.
“It was a rough game,” Horn said. “We didn’t have one of our starting seniors.”
Wetumpka’s turnaround was gradual but evident.
Three victories followed the season-opening defeat, but after dropping four of five matches the school’s record rested at 4-5.
Then the Indians rattled off wins in six of their last seven matches to bring their record to 10-6.
Two high points stood out, Horn said: A 2-0 shutout against Opelika, then ranked as the No. 8 team in Class 6A, and the team’s area sweep of Stanhope to secure a postseason berth.
Horn added he can’t recall a prior year in which Wetumpka won both its area contests against the Mustangs.
“We knew coming into Saturday that we had to take care of business against Stanhope,” Horn said. “To my knowledge, I don’t think a Wetumpka team has ever beaten Stanhope twice in one season. And we did. We won 5-3, girls won on penalty kicks, and we booked a place in the playoffs for both teams.”
Pelham now awaits in the first round of the tournament for the Indians. The Panthers hold a 15-5-1 record this season and average 4.5 goals per match, more than a goal more than Wetumpka.
Pelham enters on an eight-match winning streak.
“We’re gonna slow down the pace a little bit because they like to be a little quick with their play,” Horn said. “They like to play fast.”
Of the Indians’ core group of seniors, the one that stands out most statistically is Emmanuel Castellanos. His 17 goals and four assists both lead the team.
Fellow senior Anthony Auen is tied for second on the team with nine goals. They should be key factors against the Panthers.
Having already taken the program to a place it hasn’t been in six years, Horn said his team has no reason not to come out composed.
“I always tell the guys, ‘This is the first time we’ve been here since 2015. So we’ve gotta play loose,’” Horn said.