LOA soccer will improve

By Justin Hubbard

 

A couple of weeks ago, I used my column to detail why I thought the Greene County boys soccer team was headed in the right direction.

I never heard any feedback from that column (I rarely do, unless someone vehemently disagrees with me) but I think I’m safe to assume there might have been people throughout Lake Country who wondered why I never mentioned Lake Oconee Academy’s boys team. That would have been a legitimate gripe, to which I would have responded “just give it some time.”

I wanted to wait and see how the Titans would finish the 2018 season. I’m glad I did.

LOA’s boys lost seven of their first eight games this year. That sounds horrendous but, when you dig a little deeper, it just sounds frustrating.

The Titans’ largest deficit was only two goals. They only got shut out three times. The point is they played well enough to win most of those games, yet a few mistakes here and there cost them big time.

I was there for a few of those games and, I must admit, I was impressed by the character LOA’s players showed. Despite the excruciating losses, I can’t recall a player who looked dejected or anyone who gave up.

In fact, it was quite the opposite. The deeper the season went, the harder the Titans fought. A few weeks ago, they finally began reaping the benefits of their efforts.

LOA broke through and defeated Greene County via penalty kicks. Before that game started, I had a brief conversation with Tigers head coach Dan Whelan. He told me something along the lines of “This team is going to be tough to beat. I’ve told my guys they better bring their A-game.”

Whalen was right. I knew it in that moment, for sure, but what I’ve seen from the Titans since is pretty incredible.

After squeaking by the Tigers on April 3, LOA went right back to Tiger Stadium and beat Greene, 3-0, a week later. Next, the Titans beat Washington-Wilkes, 2-0, then closed out the year last Friday at Social Circle with a dramatic 2-1 win.

You can read all about Friday’s game – and Kendal Clark’s heroics – in an article inside this week’s sports section. But here’s what I want to say about that game and the Titans’ season in general:

It wasn’t perfect. There were times when the Titans looked like they were out of their league and had no business being on the field. But they persevered and found a way to do some good things and, in the end, they got a pretty sweet finish.

Clark’s goal was an emotionally charged ending to a rocky season. He was swarmed on the sideline by his teammates and that celebration continued for several minutes after the final buzzer.

The victory, which gave the Titans four wins in a row to close the year, was exactly the kind of payoff the team was looking for on its bus ride to Social Circle. Everyone on the sideline and the Titan faithful in the stands were thrilled. First-year head coach Julie Brooker, normally a more reserved person, amusingly got our postgame interview started for me by talking about how Clark’s goal was representative of the whole season.

On that play, the Titans had a couple of breakdowns but found a way to get the ball to Clark right in front of the net, where he capitalized with a header. There were breakdowns early in the season but LOA capitalized on a late-season push to finish with a respectable record.

All of the Titans are expected back next year – they will lose no seniors – so the lessons learned and work ethic displayed this year should certainly carry over into 2019.

The Titans have had the talent to win since the program fielded its first varsity team in 2017. This year with Brooker, along with assistants Kevin Jackson and Chris Ingle, they got the coaching they needed. And, to end the season, they figured out how to win.

LOA’s girls team is already a burgeoning powerhouse, as it will make its second-straight playoffs appearance this week. The boys team isn’t far behind.

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