Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Heading to a State Playoff Soccer Game in Asheville

The varsity boys soccer team plays away against Asheville Christian School today (October, 18, 2013) at 3:45 pm in the first round of the state playoffs, and I will be there. There was no soccer team when I attended Gaston Day--football was the big sport. My son Isaac played here from 2003-2007 and watching him converted me into a fan. Soccer has become one of my favorite school sports.
With thirteen years under my belt, I suspect I have seen more Gaston Day soccer games than anyone else. My memories of great players and teams are rich. I remember .... when Austin McGovern, with his back to the opponent's goal and about ten yards out, perfectly timed a backward somersault sending his foot toward the sky and his head toward the ground in order to kick a rebounding ball back into the goal like it had been shot out of a cannon (you had to see it to believe it)... when Isaac launched a shot from mid field at Highland Tech that sailed more than fifty yards through the air like a spear into the upper left hand corner of the net... when Andrew Groff routinely sliced through the defense and approached the opposing goalie with a steely mercilessness and an utter confidence just before he sent the ball like a laser into the back of the net... when defender Joey Sloand regularly met the ball of an oncoming dribbler with such force that the opponent fell down, and Joey headed almost uninterrupted toward the opposing goal with the ball... when Charlie Bridger dramatically delivered in overtime a perfect, arching shot from thirty-five yards out and near the sideline to send us to the final four two years ago.... when an unsportsmanlike opponent gave younger brother Conrad Sloand a cheap shot and Joey raced to the rescue from the other end of the field, screaming "don't you ever do that to my brother!!!!" All of these are indelible.
Both the girls and boys soccer programs here are strong. Coach Greg Lekavich and Assistant Coach John Nussbaumer inherited a solid program from Coach Kevin Sims, their predecessor. Lekavich and Nussbaumer have made the soccer program great. The level of competition has become stiffer as Gaston Day has grown and moved to the higher 2A state independent school athletic classification. Greg and John have compiled an extraordinary record over the last six years winning over 80% of our boys soccer games. We are perennial conference champions. Two years ago we made it to the final four in the state playoffs. Last year we won the Gazette Cup against all other Gaston County public schools. This year we have achieved another remarkable record and are back in the playoffs.
Our path in the playoffs is challenging. We are the 12th and last ceded team. The top four cedes get a first-round bye. So our opponent today is the 5th cede. However, the entire playoff field is remarkably even. Gaston Day has a legitimate shot to win it all. We could also lose today, and our season is over. If we win, we go to the elite eight. If we win today and three more games against the best competition in the state, we will be state champions. This is part of the excitement for me. Anything is possible. My son Isaac, who is an administrator now at Christ School (outside Asheville) and a former All-State soccer player at Gaston Day, will join me at the game. I know this sounds cliché, but when I step onto the sidelines today to cheer on the Spartans, time will almost stop and I will lose myself completely in the competitive drama.
What a joy it is to see wonderful athletes who I have watched grow to greatness!! Jake Rowe who dribbles so beautifully and elusively. Conrad Sloand who stunningly combines speed, skill and heart. William Rhyne whose breathtaking speed and determination have turned him into a exceptional soccer player as a senior. Charlie Manolakis who anchors the defense, always making the smart decision and delivering precise passes. Steven Manolakis who matches Conrad's speed and skill. Harrison Romero who is simply brilliant and cat-like as goal keeper.
As I write this blog, it is 4 hours until game time. I will leave for Asheville in less than 2 hours. It is a beautiful fall day. Can you tell I am ready for a tremendous game?
What kind of day is it today? It is a great day to be a Spartan!!
Go, Spartans, Go!!!!
GDS Athletic Department Motto: "Team before Self. Tireless Preparation. Fierce in Competition."