After the Indian River High School soccer team saw 12 players receive All Henlopen Conference honors, five players bring home All State honors, and senior Johan Cordoba named a Regional All American, the IR coaching staff also earned some post-season recognition when Brandt Mais was recently named the state “small school” Assistant Coach of the Year.
“I was very excited but very humbled as well,” Mais said of when he received the news of the honor.
“It’s really a team award, though — I didn’t get Assistant Coach of the Year by myself. It wouldn’t have happened without the support of the parents, players, the community, the coaching staff, everyone.”
Also named the Henlopen South Division Coach of the Year, Mais was recognized for stepping in earlier this season to take over for head coach Steve Kilby after he was sidelined from the pre-season with health issues.
“Brandt really stepped in and took over the training of the team,” said Kilby, who coached Mais as a player in River’s Olympic Development Program (ODP) from the U16 through the U18 level.
“His growth as player from ODP club and high school soccer on to his collegiate career has really set his path toward coaching. His level of professionalism and training has really been a huge asset to the program.”
A graduate of Indian River High School in 2004, before going on to an NCAA career at Flagler College, Mais currently serves as the technical director of the River Soccer Club and head coach of the JV team at Indian River, as well as a varsity assistant, along with former IR head coach and “the Godfather of River Soccer” Howard Gerken, and former IR players Nick Slonin and Nate Kortvelesey.
During his playing career for the Indians, Mais was selected as a captain of the varsity team under Gerken in both 2002 and 2003. He was also named a Third Team All State selection in 2002 as a junior and a First Team All State selection in 2003 as a senior, while helping lead the Indians to their first ever Henlopen Conference championship in 2003 as well.
Coming up through the River Soccer program — where his mother, Rebecca Mais, serves as the club’s president and his younger brother, Peter Mais, also now volunteers as a coach after his own career at River and IR — Mais returned to the club to coach after graduating from Flagler College in 2008.
Eventually, he was named the club’s technical director, along with fellow IR and River alum Justin Brooks-Ward in 2014.
Then, in 2009, after being hired to teach history at Indian River, he joined the varsity team at IR as an assistant coach, going on to be selected as the Henlopen Conference Assistant Coach of the Year in his rookie season.
Since then, he’s helped coach the Indians to seven division titles, four Henlopen Conference titles and two state titles, and coached his River club team to a State Cup final appearance as well.
While his résumé speaks for itself, perhaps more importantly, Mais said his main concern was helping shape the program from the ground up.
“The club is the foundation of this program. That’s where these players come from,” he explained.
“River started so small, but it’s grown so large, and to be part of that growth is great. These are the people in my community — they’re my friends, they’re my family, people that you’ve grown up with. It’s really rewarding to be part of it.”
With River recently celebrating its 20th anniversary, Mais headlines the growing trend of RSC products going on to collegiate careers before eventually returning to give back to the club that helped them get there.
“For me, it’s very rewarding to see Brandt, Brooks, Peter, Jake Buchler — all these other young coaches come back and start coaching at River,” said Kilby.
“Their philosophy is very well grounded in development first, and wins and results later, down the road, as the players develop.”
As for one of River’s most decorated groups through the years — the 2017 senior class at Indian River — Mais has watched them grow from young players just learning the game to establishing themselves as some of the best players in the state.
Infamously dubbed “the Original Frankford Crew,” Mais epitomized the River philosophy by giving credit for much of that group’s success to former IR head coach Duncan Smith, who coached this year’s seniors — including his own son, Mac Smith — since their first soccer practice at Frankford Elementary School and eventually led them to two State Cup Championships.
“I think a lot of credit with this group has to be given to Duncan Smith. He’s worked with them since the beginning,” Mais said.
“Mac, for example — Duncan actually coached my brother’s club team, so Mac was always around the club with Duncan when Pete was training. To see him go all the way through the ranks has definitely been very rewarding.”
The same group has also won two DIAA state championships after getting to the high school, falling short of their third title during this year’s final after some sudden extreme weather conditions were instrumental in a 4-2 loss to Tower Hill.
While Mais was honored with the individual achievements, for both himself and his players, he said that being a part of their development and working toward team goals, for him, is what it’s all about.
“I tell you what: I would give that award back to win a state championship this year,” Mais said. “Individual awards are great and everything, too, but I think nothing means more for the program than winning state championships. That’s always our main goal.”