Before Seth Condley voluntarily took on the task of coaching both Stillwater High soccer teams, there was debate whether he could properly handle the responsibilities required.
The longtime SHS boys’ soccer coach and father of four children who graduated from Oklahoma State University and has remained in Stillwater proved he was up to the job in his first season.
Condley took over the Lady Pioneers’ program after it suffered through losing season after losing season. The last time they reached the playoffs came in 2014, when the only games they won were the three district contests, enough to squeak into the playoffs as the No. 4 seed.
He turned around the program this spring and helped it reach new heights. For his team’s success, Condley has been named the Stillwater News Press Spring Sports Coach of the Year.
“We knew we could maybe get close to double digits in our preseason talks with the girls, but it all depended on how much they would buy in to what we were trying to do with them,” Condley said. “As a team and as individuals, if they would buy into the different training expectations, and they completely bought in. It was just a fantastic year and we’re just hoping to set the foundation for better things to come in the future, especially for next year, because we have a lot of girls coming back. I’m really excited about that.
“I loved coaching both teams. It was exactly what I was hoping it would be. It was a challenge and it kept me busy, but it was awesome. The reason you can do that and have success at both ends is because you have really good assistants on the boys’ and girls’ side, and I was fortunate enough to have that this year.”
Condley said the results came because of the hard work his players put into their training sessions and how much they bought into the system he and his assistants coaches installed. They also tried to have a rebirth of the program’s culture.
“It was really early,” Condley said. “We tried to do some little things with them. We changed the locker room up, got new uniforms, bought some new training gear and tried to do everything new to change everything up to get them to buy into this is our expectations from here on out.
“The older girls bought in pretty quick, but the freshmen didn’t have any reference to go from, because this was all new to them as far as being in high school and the way we wanted to play. The older girls completely bought in from day one to get this going.”
The Lady Pioneers went 5-9 and that was one and two more wins than they earned the previous two seasons. All of that turned around this year.
Stillwater finished the 2019 season with a 10-6 record – setting a program record for wins. The SHS girls’ squad also advanced to the state tournament for the first time in five years, by finishing third in its district, which was also a first for the program.
“The girls hadn’t made it to the playoffs for a few years, but in his first year as our coach, we did make it,” 2019 SHS graduate Bella Blake said. “I think it had to with our players on the field, but his coaching also had a big impact, because he helped us a lot.”
While there was a lot of hype around Condley taking over the Lady Pioneers’ program, the 2019 season didn’t get off to a good start. Stillwater dropped its first two games, by a combined 3-0 score.
The first win came at home against Edmond Memorial, with the second win coming four days later against Edmond Santa Fe. Both came in overtime penalty kick shootouts. Just like that, Stillwater was back to .500 in the win-loss column.
“It was kind of fitting, because the past four or five years, the girls had struggle with penalty kicks, but they won their first game on PKs,” Condley said. “They had been in a lot of close games, but they just couldn’t get over that hump of scoring the goals or penalty kicks. For our first win this year, it was fitting to win on penalty kicks.”
The winning streak continued March 14 when Stillwater beat Sapulpa, which was undefeated entering the match, by a 1-0 score. That was the victory where Condley sensed this spring could be a successful season, especially after he thought he season could go down a rabbit hole after it began with back-to-back losses.
“I think it was the Sapulpa game right before spring break,” Condley said. “They came here and they were undefeated, and we were 2-2. We beat them 1-0 with the Zoey Long goal with about 13 seconds left in the game. It was a really good game. I think that’s when the girls started believing they could do it. It was a boost right before spring break, too.”
Following spring break, Stillwater lost to Broken Arrow before it finished runner-up in the Stillwater Cup. Then came three-straight district losses that were crucial in clinching the No. 3 seed in the district.
The Lady Pioneers dropped their second district game in a loss to Jenks, but bounced back with two more 1-0 victories. In the state playoffs, they traveled to Norman, where they lost 1-0 to end their season.
“The bus ride there was amazing,” Blake said. “We were all singing and having fun. Even though we lost, we were all so proud of ourselves. We never got too down about it, because we were happy to be where we were. We had a good time together.”
Condley put his girls’ team through a lot of conditioning during the 10 days leading up to the state playoff game. He said the players were quite receptive to the training and extra practices, which he hopes are beneficial moving forward.
“It was like the boys making it in 2010,” Condley said. “Now, can you do it again? Now, that’s the challenge. They’ve never made it back to back in school history. We got those extra 10 days and those were meaningful training sessions. If you don’t make the playoffs, like the boys, you have three-and-a-half more weeks of training, because it’s a class, so we’re out there every day doing stuff. It could be a drag if you don’t make it.
“It was new for all of them. Every day, it was all new and they didn’t know what to expect. They loved it and it was just great. They were just excited to go play.”