Coach Jeff Smith, head of Clinton’s women’s soccer program, was awarded Coach of The Year for the 2A division of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA).
The honor is a well-deserved one for Smith, whose skillful coaching carried the Lady Dark Horses to just a one-loss season season up to the fourth round of playoffs for this year’s 2A Women’s Soccer Championship. It’s also not the only accolade for the team following this year’s strong season. Graduating senior Halla Gilpin earned two herself, wining both Player of the Year for Sampson County and the Four County Conference.
The awards are warmly received by the Lady Dark Horses coach. “I was surprised. It’s a thing, to say in the least,” said Smith, who gave credit to the local soccer culture that Sampson County has built over the years. “I’m pleased, it speaks highly of what Clinton soccer has become, both the girls and the boys program. I have to credit the Sampson County soccer club, the training and coaching that they get — it makes everything for me great, and we have fun with it.”
He also spoke proudly of Gilpin.
“I’m proud of her, I’m happy for her. It’s well deserved. I hope she gets the opportunity to play when she gets to college. She’s one of the better if not the best players I’ve ever coached coming through Clinton high school. A heck of a soccer player.”
“It’s been fun and it’s been a great year,” continues Smith proudly. “You don’t have to win it all to be successful. We had the most wins, we scored the most goals we have of all time, we had a girl place in all-state — the second girl ever here to do that.”
As for Smith himself? His background before coming to the Lady Dark Horses required a shift in perspective, a learning process he contributes the success of his women’s coaching to the guidance of Dr. Michael Valenti of the Sampson Soccer Club.
“Dr. Michael Valenti has made it the thing to do, he taught me how to coach girls since I came from a boy’s soccer background, and he showed me how to do it.”
The appreciated differences in Smith’s coaching between men’s and women’s soccer shine, reflecting in both the legacy of CHS records crafted this season and the cultivated talent in players like Gilpin.
“Coaching girl’s soccer — it’s much different, but it’s also more rewarding for me; it’s light-hearted but more intense, and I’m lucky to have had some amazing girls come through and get younger players in,” said Smith. “The seniors showed the younger girls what to do and how to do it. It’s not about me, so much as it does the younger girls learning what the older girls do — so, my job? It’s pushing those pieces together.”
He also contributes the success of the CHS women’s soccer program to the of the support and skill of his assistant coach, Adam Smith. “I’m lucky to have my assistant coach Adam, I look forward to him taking this program in the next couple years as the team goes further.”
“We’ve got a great team coming next year and I’m just as hopeful as I was this year,” he continues, looking towards the future of Clinton’s soccer program as his team evolves. “We’ll be young with only one senior, but we’ll be quality. It’ll be fun.”
With the ongoing support of Smith, Valenti, and passionate players? It will be.
Reach Sports Editor Daron Barefoot at firstname.lastname@example.org.