Jay Fitzgerald: Two decades of wisdom guiding Nolan Catholic Soccer
With only two ties and three losses and a 18-3-2 record on the season, some may recognize the grit and tenacity Nolan Catholic girls soccer has shown so far this season. Fans of the program already know that consistency, persistence, and excellence is just what comes with the team- especially led by head coach Jay Fitzgerald who has spent 22 years with the program.
After 22 years at Nolan Catholic, Fitzgerald has won over 400 career wins and coached over 600 career games. "In terms of milestones," Fitzgerald said in an interview last week, "that's a lot." Despite all of his success with the Lady Vikings, there's on thing missing. "We have not, since I've been here all these years, won a state title. I think we have a record for the most state runner-ups and appearances. It's cool because we do all that work to get there, but we'll see if we can [get a title] this year."
Fitzgerald isn't the only one on the team with big accomplishments and aspiration, though. Senior forward Laci Earixson is just two goals away from 100 career goals. "I just take it game by game because I don't want to focus too much on it and get in my own head," Earixson said in the interview. "Even in Austin, I wasn't keeping count. I think it's just cool that in four years I can accomplish all of that- especially with Nolan." Earixson has scored over 30 goals this season en route to her college career that's just on the horizon at Texas Woman's University. "When I came in sophomore year, my game just went directly up. All of the girls around me helped me become so much better than I was as a freshman," Earixson began in regards to her time as a Viking. "My sophomore year was adapting and my junior year was probably the best. So, going out of Nolan I just want people to know who I was and help us win state." Her favorite moment playing as a Viking? "The semi-final against Ursuline. Sophomore year we didn't get that chance and last year we worked so hard and got there."
The pressure of success might be intimidating for anybody entering a squad, but that hasn't been the case for freshman midfielder Sierra Padilla. "I get really nervous because I know this program is really, really good, but once you get to know the girls, they're just so encouraging," said Padilla. "I've learned that I can lean on any of teammates whether that's in school or on the soccer field. I can just rely on them. They've taught me to just love the game for what it is." The freshman has 15 goals of her own on the season with over 23 shots on goal. "I want to be more consistent and get more goals because Laci has a good chunk of our goals and we rely on her a lot. I think if we have more tact and I bring more energy and tact we will have better success come playoffs," Padilla said in regards to her goals for the rest of the season.
Being one of the captains on a great team comes with a lot of responsibility, but it's a responsibility junior goalkeeper Alle Steining takes and leads upon with grace and humility. "Game by game, for me, my goal is to get a shut-out and not to let any goals in," said Steining. "Even if one goes in, I tell myself to take it shot-by-shot. I tell myself 'don't let this next shot go in' or 'stop this shot'. Overall, my individual goal is always to help my team get to where we want to go and get that state title as well. I'd like to reach the finish line so that we can all, collectively, reach our goals." The team Steining is always most excited to face? Non-district rival Ursuline. "Facing Ursuline is always a big deal," said the keeper.
Fitzgerald says the biggest thing any of his athletes have taught him is to make the most with the time you're given. Because of the pandemic outbreak and schools shutting down, teams weren't able to be together last spring as school finished for the year. "After the season, yeah you miss them, but you wonder if you made the most of opportunities when you're at a team dinner or when we were at a game… or even halftime. Did we maximize the time we had together? We didn't miss out on a season because we were done before COVID came, but we missed out on development for the next season," said coach Fitzgerald. Nolan Catholic has proven, though, that they are willing to stick out the ride and connect on a regular basis to stay on top of their game, keep each other accountable, and truly form bonds with one another. "When we're together, like just this moment in itself with these players, we need to make the most of this opportunity and not pout. We can all get into that pouty mood when we go on a trip and it's the last night and we're a little sad that it's almost over, but I've learned that every moment and day by day we need to take advantage of the time we have together."
"Without these girls," Fitzgerald continued, "we'll never get through this. We won't get another win without these girls. I don't have all of the answers, so they're going to have to take ownership of the program they're giving into. I tell them all the time that if they're going to be a part of the program it's 365 days. I don't care if it's Christmas or Thanksgiving, there's something that you have to give back to the program."
There's no question that Fitzgerald's wisdom, patience, leadership, and mantra of "look, sound, and feel" has helped the Lady Vikings remain at the top of their game every step of the way. The girls also feel as though major components to their success has been the idea of impact, presence, and improvement. Whether it's practice, half time, or a game the Lady Vikings are constantly striving to be better than they were even just a moment before.