If the St. Charles East girls soccer team needed to lighten the mood, they could always count on something giggle-worthy coming out of coach Paul Jennison's mouth.
It's not so much the England native's sharp accent as the native sayings that occasionally require a double-take to properly digest.
"We always make fun of him for it," East senior defender Shannon Rasmussen said. "He used to get mad but now he just accepts the fact we make fun of him for it. Some of the terms he uses in soccer don't even make sense but I've gotten so used to everything he says from a cultural standpoint. I don't say 'cleats' anymore, I say 'boots,' and my mom has no idea what I'm talking about."
However Jennison's message was delivered, it clearly found its mark for the Saints, who stormed to the IHSA Class 3A state championship match before settling for second place. Jennison is the Kane County Chronicle Girls Soccer Coach of the Year.
Jennison repeatedly called it a "privilege" to work with such a fun-loving, tight-knit team. Many of the players felt just as strongly about their coach.
"Jennison is a fantastic coach," East senior goalkeeper Kendra Sheehan said. "He knows just what to say. He knows how to pick us up when we're down, the exact words to motivate us. I've never had a better coach in my life."
A passionate but upbeat halftime address from Jennison at the 3A state semifinal against Lincoln-Way North was followed by the Saints scoring three unanswered goals to zoom beyond a 1-0, halftime deficit.
East followed with a worthy encore in the state championship match, playing heavily favored New Trier (31-1) to a hotly contested match that ended with the Trevians triumphing, 1-0.
The Saints finished with a 19-5-5 mark, peaking at the ideal time after falling short in the conference race. Rasmussen, who Jennison successfully persuaded to embrace a position switch to the back line, said changing the emphasis from wins and losses to simply playing with pizzazz helped transform the team into the force that it became.
"He just realized that much pressure made us play worse so he made it more of an environment that was less pressure and said we need to focus on our own game," Rasmussen said. "And that's what we focused on the rest of the year."
The wins, and the laughs, kept piling up.