HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - It was the usual gathering of coach and players. Most would call it a huddle so, nothing out of the norm for Joseph Falla and his Sacred Heart girls soccer squad.
But this particular moment Friday, prior to the Crusaders' practice, was one that provided a sense of accomplishment yet still strengthened focus.
"When you work hard this is what you get in the end," the sixth-year head coach told his team.
What Falla and his team have is a trip to the state soccer championship Saturday (noon at Clinton High School).
This is just another chapter in the Crusaders' recent run of dominance. A win over South Pontotoc would be the program's fourth in the last five years.
"We work hard for this time of the year and it's not too many people (that) make it to the state championship as we have," Falla said. "That proves that hard work really pays off."
Not many high school athletes can win a state championship. Senior Mary Margaret Parker has a chance to win four.
"It's really wonderful to be able to bring home four state championships," Parker said. "It's great to bring it home to our school and to all these people and the parents and all the time and money spent. And to God and everything else. So I guess it feels pretty great."
Parker is one of just three seniors on Sacred Heart so this could have easily been a rebuild year. But the mark of a true program is sustained success.
"I sincerely believe that the key of the success is that my girls learned to buy into my program," Falla said. "I coach different from everybody else. In the beginning, it was kind of hard for me to make them understand that I was a different coach. I've been coaching for over thirty years."
Falla has played a huge role in the building of the Crusader program. He's been a part of all three state titles.
"We call him Pappa because that's what his grand daughters and grandson calls him," Crusader sophomore Jessica Hyde said. "It makes us all feel like a big family."
Added Parker, "Pappa is like a grandfather to all of us. He's a funny, nice guy. He knows the game like the back of his hand."
Even though the Crusaders are accustomed to state title appearances, coach Falla, AKA "Pappa", and his players aren't taking Saturday for granted.
"It's an incredible feeling to not only be able to prove yourself one year but then to come back the next year after losing all those great seniors and be able to do it again," Hyde said
Friday was the final high school practice for Parker and her fellow senior classmates.
"These girls are like my sisters," Parker said. "And you know, it just doesn't really get old getting to head up there to Clinton and play in the state championship."