Sacred Heart soccer is a family affair.
For nearly a decade, Joe Falla, Jr. has coached the Crusaders. His father, Joe Falla, Sr., has led the Lady ‘Saders the last seven years.
Very early in their tenures, neither quite expected the dominance that would eventually follow.
“I really didn’t considering how I started,” Falla, Jr. said. “I started 0-6 and finally won a game right after the Thanksgiving holidays my first year.”
Falla, Sr., known affectionately by his players as ‘Papa’, watched the Lady ‘Sader program from a distance prior to taking over. He believed the potential to do great things was there.
“I knew they had a really unique group of kids there,” Falla, Sr. said. “For whatever reason, they never got up to the top.
“I knew with any luck at all, I could get them to the top.”
And he did. Again and again and again and again. In total, actually, the father-son duo has won seven state championships at Sacred heart, a soccer powerhouse almost unlike any other in the state of Mississippi.
The Lady ‘Saders have captured the Class 1A/2A/3A Championship five of the last six years, including their most recent last Saturday with an overtime win over St. Andrews. It’s the third straight year they’ve ruled the classification.
The Crusaders are coming off a year where, like the Lady ‘Saders, they captured district and South State titles. Falla, Jr.’s team came up a win short of their first state title since 2013 with a 4-2 loss to St. Joseph.
Because of that overall success, Falla, Jr. has been named our Sports601 Hattiesburg Boys Coach of the Year, while Falla, Sr. is our Sports601 Girls Coach of the Year.
“It’s a fantastic honor considering there’s so many fantastic coaches in the area that do a phenomenal job with their team,” Falla, Jr. said. “Some even coach boys and girls, and I know how difficult that can possibly be. But to get an honor like this, Coach of the Year, I’m ecstatic, and I guess it’s a testimony to our hard work.”
To Falla’s liking, the Crusaders flew under the radar much of this past season. Though it was not the ending they wanted, it was still a season to remember, said Falla.
“It’s been a few years since we’ve been there. So overall, fantastic season. That’s been the great accomplishment all year. We flew under the radar all year which was kind of my plan to begin with. Just stay as low key as possible.”
With their entire starting lineup set to return next year, that’s sure to change.
“We had what I like to call our ‘decompression meeting’ yesterday,” Falla, Jr. said. “I met with all the boys, and we just talked about plans for preseason and a little bit about the state title game. And the plans for next year and how we could check the last box.”
The Lady ‘Saders have had no problem getting over that hump in recent years, and this past one was no different. And it never, ever gets old, said Falla, Sr.
“I still haven’t come down yet. Realizing what we did is big. It’s big for our school and big for the morale of our players.”
After Saturday’s win, Falla proclaimed he felt like he was six-feet tall and 35-years-old. That’s just the way he’s always carried himself. With energy and a never-ending desire to be number one.
“My philosophy: Respect all, fear none.”
Even beyond the coaches and onto the field, the Fallas dominate. Gabby Falla, the granddaughter of her coach, scored the game-tying goal on a free kick against St. Andrews. Then in the overtime period, Gabby’s sister, Gracie, scored what proved to be the game-winner.
Seeing his daughters and dad have that success year-in and year-out, it’s right on par with hoisting that gold ball trophy, said Falla, Jr.
“It’s fantastic. It’s exciting. It’s something I always tell my kids. Once you are a champion, you’re always a champion. Nobody can take that away from you. Hey man, enjoy the ride.
“Somebody’s gotta win it, and it might as well be us.”