As the sun sets on another warm September day in Washington, a man draped from head to toe in a white construction outfit finishes mowing the varsity soccer playing surface at Rees Field. This man isn’t the maintenance director, but the head boys soccer coach for the Washington Catholic Cardinals — Wayne Neace.
After a simple question about the manual labor being done, Neace makes it abundantly clear why he is still working at 7 p.m. while everyone else is enjoying the summer-like weather.
“Someone has to do it, it might as well be me,” Neace quipped.
This interaction is a microcosm of life as the soccer coach at Washington Catholic. With a high school enrollment just over 80, the Cardinals have to maximize every asset they have. There aren’t any grand athletic complexes for Washington Catholic’s programs like the Washington Hatchets have at the Sports Complex.
Neace has to do the best with what he has been given, and up to this point he’s done an excellent job. The passionate fans come out in droves to support the Cardinals boys’ soccer program with as much fervor as any other program in the area, and there has been plenty to cheer about lately. Neace has been the leader of the boys’ soccer program for four years and in that time Washington Catholic has been dominant. A disappointing 3-0 loss Saturday to South Knox was just the second regular season loss since Neace took the job.
The Cardinals have had to reload on the fly this year after the graduations of stars Colton Reed, Brantley Smith and Neace’s son, Christian. The Cardinals won the school’s first sectional championship in 2011, but last year after an undefeated regular season, WC was upset by Forest Park in the first round of the sectional at Northeast Dubois. Despite a four-year stretch of excellence on the field, the Cardinals are far under the radar in their own town — for good reason. The Hatchets won 15 sectional championships between 1994 and 2010, with 2005 as the only year they didn’t hoist a sectional championship trophy.
“We realize that Washington is up the road,” Neace said. “They’re the bigger school, they’re going to get more recognition and that’s fine — I don’t mind flying under the radar. It is what it is. We try to win games. We try to set our goals at the beginning of the season to win the Blue Chip (Conference) and win the sectional. Right now we’re still OK in both of those categories.”
Reed scored 45 goals in this senior year in 2012, Christian Neace finished his career with close to 100 assists, and Smith trailed both players closely in the WC record books in both goals and assists. Yet the Cardinals have kept the train moving this season. Junior Blaine Fuhs has 15 goals this season, which puts him on pace to break Reed’s magical 2012 season, and senior Brody Wilson is on pace to break Christian Neace’s assist record.
Wayne Neace has been with the Cardinals soccer program for nine years, his wife, Kelly, coaches the girls team. He coached many of his current and former players when they were in junior high. The familiarity between player and coach allows the Cardinal program to keep moving without any trouble.
The names have changed, but the results are the same for Wayne Neace and the entire Washington Catholic program. He acknowledges that this team is under the radar after the exodus of last year’s three seniors, but Neace asserts the Cardinals offense still has plenty of weapons. There will continue to be minimal fanfare around town for Neace’s Cardinals, but he plans on doing exactly what he’s been doing for the past four years — working hard and winning soccer games.