Minutes before kickoff, Indian Land’s Matthew Medlock says he started hearing the jeers from their opponents, Collins Hill (Ga.) High School, at last month’s Bryan Ostower High School Soccer Showcase at Manchester Meadows.
The visiting Eagles, runners-up in the Class AAAAAA state title last year, allegedly were less than impressed with the look of their Class AA opponents—Indian Land was the only Class AA team invited to the preseason tournament.
“Before the game, they said to us that we looked like a rec team,” Medlock said. “But they weren’t saying anything afterwards.”
Thanks to a clinical Brandon Jacob penalty and some clutch goalkeeping by senior Jake Barton, the Warriors defeated Collins Hill 1-0.
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More important than the win, according to many on the team, is the boost in respect from programs around the state. The Warriors enter the 2014 season off of back-to-back Class AA state championship final appearances, including last year’s heartbreaking 4-3 triple overtime loss to Bishop England.
Head coach Adam Cole’s team lost seven starters over the summer, but he feels confident his young group can continue the program’s lofty expectations.
“I think we’re slowly making a name for ourselves,” Cole said. “We had a chip on our shoulder and I think hanging so tough to Bishop England was a real confidence booster for the young kids on this team. The skills are there, it’s all focus now.”
Sophomore midfielder Garrett Gerdes said Cole regularly uses last spring’s final as a motivation tactic to prove that mental toughness is just as important as physical strength on the field. Gerdes’ 12th minute diving header in Gilbert put the Warriors up 2-0 before Bishop England scored three unanswered goals in 10 minutes.
Following the team’s first two regular season victories over Camden Military Academy and Lugoff-Elgin last week, the Warriors are preparing to take on high-caliber nonconference opponents like South Pointe, York and Nation Ford.
“We want to compete hard against them,” Gerdes said. “I love the feeling of beating those types of teams. Playing Class AA teams gets a little boring after a while. It’s nice to get a challenge.”
While most of the Warriors’ starting lineup consists of sophomores or juniors, a good chunk of the team recently finished a season playing together on the local travel team, Discoveries Soccer Club. It’s a bond, Cole said, that makes his job easier to focus on tactical elements.
“It’s nice to have them there because it gives them help on their technical ability so when they’re back here, we can focus on the team,” he said. “We’re not rebuilding. The program’s established and the kids are established. We just need to play.”
Cole’s team promises to play a much more possession-focused game than last year, which was predicated on the quick wing play of Nick Retter and Anthony Cutrone, who have both graduated. The more patient play will be a result from the team’s chemistry in game situations, said junior captain Jordan Szustwal at Thursday’s practice.
“Last year, it gives the younger kids something to think about, to get back to that success,” Szustwal said. “We want to play up to the caliber of the teams before us and I don’t think that diminishes the hope for us this year.”
Girls leading by example with 11 seniors
Indian Land coach Mark Bonda said he was happy to listen when the seniors on his girls’ soccer team proposed naming captains for the upcoming 2014 season. He wasn’t that surprised when the 11 seniors said they should all serve as a captain committee.
It’s a typical response from Bonda’s group, many of which he’s been working with since the girls were in seventh grade.
“Our seniors are the lifeblood of the team,” Bonda said. “They’re finally getting to lead this team the way they want it. The most important thing is getting everyone focused.”
The Warriors return 15 players from last year’s campaign, which ended in a loss to Christ Church in the Upper State final. Bonda has three senior Limestone College commitments, Shalyn Dougherty, Kelsey Groll and Kayla Groll, on his roster, but will be without fellow senior Raquel Addamo, who suffered a freak ACL injury while playing flag football. Her recovery is expected to last about six months.
In the meantime, Dougherty is nursing a hamstring tear that forced her to miss her club soccer season this fall. She played for the Warriors’ ladies basketball team this winter, but said this season will put her injury to the test.
“It still bothered me during basketball season,” Dougherty said. “I didn’t want to play basketball, but they were low on girls. It’s going to take a while for me to get back to how I was.”
In the meantime, Dougherty said she’d be focusing on assisting her teammates rather than shooting for goal on most occasions. Her hat trick over Andrew Jackson put the Warriors into the third round of last year’s Class AA playoffs for the first time in school history.
“This year, I’ve got to be doing what it takes to win games,” she said. “Whether it’s helping others score or scoring myself.”
Bonda’s team will be taking on marquee matchups with non-conference opponents Eastsie, A.C. Flora and St. Joseph’s this season to prepare for another playoff run this May.
“We’re trying to fine-tune everything now so we can be a cohesive unit,” Bonda said. “If they come to practice and do the little things, then we’ve definitely got the clientele to do it.”