LON sports editor Justin Hubbard discusses LOA's boys soccer team's season
I thought they had it in the bag.
As I watched the final 10 minutes of last week’s Lake Oconee Academy-Georgia Military College Prep boys state championship soccer game tick away, I just knew the Titans were going to win. They only led 1-0, but you would have thought it was 10-0.
LOA’s defense turned in as close to a perfect performance as one could ever hope to see. The likes of Tristan and Troy Weir, Devin Phenix and Kendal Clark expertly defended the goal. There were times when GMC’s players cleared them but then goalkeeper Kyle Morse held down the fort with numerous saves.
In preparation of everything I would have to do after the game – take celebration photos, post a final score update and conduct interviews – I began scribbling down interview questions during those closing minutes. My world-class jinxing abilities must have kicked in yet again, because what happened shortly thereafter literally made my jaw drop.
GMC somehow fought through LOA’s defenders. The Bulldogs drew Morse and company in one direction and kicked the ball in another, sending it into the back of the net to tie the game at 1-1.
In that moment, I knew GMC had it won.
That’s no disrespect to LOA whatsoever. I’ve seen the Titans rebound from big goals all season long, including the week before in their thrilling Final Four win over the Academy for Classical Education.
But GMC had gone to overtime in its previous two playoff matches. The Bulldogs surely felt right at home when they sent the game to an extra 15-minute period. I’m not saying the Titans weren’t prepared for the extended battle, it’s just that GMC had a wealth of recent experience on its side.
Sure enough, the Bulldogs scored with less than 10 minutes remaining in overtime. They held on from there to send the Titans home wondering what could have been and sick over what actually was.
I don’t know how head coach Julie Brooker made her postgame messages to her players. What do you say after a game like that?
One player came up to me, shook my hand and thanked me for covering the team this year. All I could think to say was he and his teammates had played a great game and they will be back.
That wasn’t a lie, but I’m sure it was hardly any comfort in that moment.
LOA athletics learned two very tough – but very valuable – lessons the last two weeks. Its girls soccer team fell in the semifinals to ACE and its boys soccer team lost the biggest game of the year.
The postseason is largely unchartered territory for LOA, which, as many of you know by now after all my columns and stories, just concluded its third school year offering varsity-level sports. These teams don’t know what it’s like competing in the playoffs.
They also don’t know what it’s like losing in the playoffs. The heartbreak is all too a fresh and new experience for those players and, in some cases, their coaches.
The thing about sports, though, is they teach us countless valuable life lessons. One of the most important things we can learn through sports is that things don’t always go our way. Sometimes, we win. Sometimes, we lose.
What matters after taking a loss is how you respond to it. Will you use the loss to make you better or will you wallow in defeat?
I can’t make a judgment for the Titans based on what I saw from them following last Thursday’s game – I would’ve been bawling my eyes out myself had I been in their shoes – but I know most of these players well enough to know this won’t be the end of their story.
This team didn’t make it to the finals by accident. Its players and coaches put in the necessary hard work to give themselves the opportunity to do something special.
And they capitalized on it. As I wrote about LOA’s girls last week, LOA’s boys helped make me enjoy watching soccer, too. The Titans turned in their best-ever season following two consecutive years of disappointing results.
Something tells me we’ve only begun seeing this program – girls and boys – competing in the playoffs.
The seniors who will leave their teams behind will be tough to replace. Fortunately for the Titans, they’ve got plenty of depth and a handful of coaches who know exactly what they’re doing.
So, get accustomed to seeing LOA soccer playing late into the year, because the Titans are here to stay.