The Salpointe Catholic High School girls soccer team won back-to-back state championships in 1998 and 1999, then went 18 years before winning another one.
Now, the Lancers can repeat history.
Second-seeded Salpointe will take on No. 1 Flagstaff at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in the Class 4A state championship game at Gilbert Williams Field High School. With a win, the Lancers can secure their second consecutive state title.
Kelly Pierce connects the two eras. Salpointe’s first-year coach played on the Lancers’ 1998 and ‘99 title teams. She went on to play at Pima College and then with the Sonoran Thunder of Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL).
Pierce played with the Tucson Soccer Academy, now FC Tucson Women, for a few years and took on the role of assistant coach last summer. Before arriving at Salpointe, Pierce coached at Mountain View.
The Star talked to the 37-year-old Pierce on Friday about her journey back to Salpointe, what she expects from the program and what her third state crown would mean. Here’s what she had to say:
What brought you back to your alma mater?
A: “I was offered the position and I had been at Mountain View, but I’m a single mom and it was really hard. My mom was at Salpointe. So I was initially going to step away from high school soccer altogether and just focus on my kids and working. When I was offered the position, it kind of changed things because of the convenience factor of it being near my work and near my mom and my grandma for help with the kids. There’s a lot of family history there: I’m a third-generation graduate, and I loved it there. I want my kids to go there and it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
What was it like to take over an established program that had qualified for the state playoffs the last three years?
A: “I definitely felt the pressure. I knew the target was on our backs. I knew people were expecting things coming right off a state championship. But like we told the girls, us coaches, we knew, we take it day by day and not get ahead of ourselves.”
The last time Salpointe won back-to-back championships was in 1998 and 1999. Do you think this team can do the same as your teams and be repeat champs?
A: “I mean, I think that would be wonderful if they could, obviously. I have all the faith in the world in them. I’ve seen what they can do and we’ve been working hard all season. We set goals from the beginning and our ultimate goal was to be in this game, so I have nothing but faith and confidence in them. We’re just going to have to come out and come out hard because Flagstaff is such a good team.”
Salpointe (11-0-1) and Flagstaff (12-0) have similar records, but is there anything that really differentiates both teams that will affect you Saturday?
A: “I’ll be honest, I don’t know a whole lot about them besides their record. They played (Catalina) Foothills, and we got to see bits and pieces of that game and they beat them 1-0… Obviously they can score goals. They have a lot of shutouts. So I’m assuming their defense is good. Overall, they’re well-coached and I know they’re going to be a solid team… I think we are pretty evenly matched. So, it’s going to be a good game, which is always exciting.”
What goals do you have for the future of the program?
A: “I would like to continue being the next Wolfgang (Weber, Salpointe’s longtime boys coach), but on the female side … just to keep them moving forward and building and continuing to be in this situation. Hopefully, being in the state final every year would be great, but it’s hard to be on top. It’s not that common to have repeats because it is so difficult, but that would be the ultimate goal. To continue having a successful program, building it and developing these girls further.”
Saturday, win or lose, your first season coaching at Salpointe will be over. How would you say it went?
A: “I have to say it was successful regardless. I told the girls this week, regardless of the outcome, that I’m very proud of them. Even if we walk away with a loss, it doesn’t define us as a team or our season. We set a lot of goals and we were able to succeed with those. And they played well, they were committed and they played hard. Win or lose, I’m proud of them.”