When Haddon Heights High School forward Alex Pease’s shot hit the net to give the Garnets a 1-0 lead in the South Jersey Group 1 semifinals, her coach let the moment sink in.
Brad Kent, in his fourth year at the helm of the club, enjoyed the roar of his alma mater’s fan base.
“That one moment it was neat to just take a step back and enjoy it with the fans and other coaches,” Kent said. “That was one of my better moments in coaching, certainly.”
Kent had a year full of fine moments. He led Haddon Heights to South Jersey and Colonial Conference Patriot Division titles with an 18-5 record.
He is the 2015 Courier-Post Girls’ Soccer Coach of the Year.
“If you don’t have the girls willing to work and the assistants there to put in the time,” the humble Kent said, “I don’t think any of this would be possible.”
The Garnets started the season with an injury to center-midfielder Kiersten Pease. Kent knew they’d have to make adjustments from the first practice.
Instead of the squad’s traditional 4-4-2 formation, he taught the girls to play a 4-3-3 and, at times, a 4-2-3-1.
“I think to be successful at this level the way the game’s evolving all coaches need to have little compromise in their system,” he said. “You need to be flexible. We had to figure out which formation suits our team and suits the best chances to beat our opponents.”
While strategy played a key role in Heights’ success, Kent’s ability to relate to players enhanced it.
Coaches frequently take an authoritarian role. For Kent, who teaches business at the school where he graduated in 1997, the ability to find common ground with his athletes is paramount.
“I’ve never seen a coach who has more fun than him,” Pease said. “He has a great sense of humor and loves to have fun with the team.
“He goes out of his way to make all of us happy and having fun. … The way he acted and how his personality was made us respect him greatly and want to improve and accomplish big things for him.”
Kent’s techniques and personable attitude have helped maintain steady success for the Garnets.
In his four years, they’ve won two sectional titles and played for another.
“The more we are enjoying ourselves, the more you can push them a little more and it keeps them hungry,” the coach said.
This year’s group put together a special run that featured a dominant roll through the South Jersey playoffs. In the state semifinals, Pease’s goal put Shore Regional on its heels before the Blue Devils eventually prevailed 2-1.
That experience – and the people from his hometown who supported it loudly in the stands – are fresh in the mind of the appreciative bench boss.
“I feel like you’re going about your business throughout the season and then as you start to grow as a team and become more successful in a small town like this, people start to get behind you,” Kent said. “It was great.”
Mark Trible; (856) 486-2424; firstname.lastname@example.org