Eastern Alamance’s men’s soccer team suffered a disappointing 2-1 loss to Northern Durham last Wednesday night in the opening round of the NCHSAA 3A state playoffs. Although it was a heartbreaking ending for the EAHS seniors, and a shorter finish than the Eagles would have liked, it was once again a solid year for Eastern.
Along with a second place finish in the Mid-State Conference standings, the Eagles finished with an overall record of 13-7, giving the program something to build on heading into 2020.
“Overall, I would say that this group of boys, Varsity and JV has been one of the more special ones that I’ve had the privilege of being a part of,” Eastern High head coach Kyle Shave said in an interview. “We lost a good deal of quality players to graduation last year and at the start of the season, we did not know who we were. Any time you add or lose one player, it can change a whole team dynamic. It felt that we were starting from scratch with so many new faces and I think the results at the front end of the season showed that.”
There’s always an underlying process to the things we do, and I think the boys did a great job to stay true to that and learn from the trials we had,” Shave continued. “At the middle of the season, we got into a bit of groove and got some quality wins or feedback about how good we could be. I think that opened our eyes a bit more and raised the investment of everyone. I believe that the boys learned a bit more about competition in a sense. Competition wasn’t just about competing against the opponent but also competing for our teammate. Towards the end of the season, to have finished the way we did, it was fantastic. People may see the results, but when you look at the competition of the team throughout the season, there was tremendous growth. This group of boys went from having moments in the beginning of the season that literally would beat ourselves to making other teams have to beat us. We competed with the better teams by the end of the season and actually had them outplayed although the results didn’t always reflect it. That is the game of soccer.”
Against Northern Durham, the Eagles had multiple opportunities down the stretch in the second half to try and equalize the score to force overtime. Eastern had shots bang against the pipes, or narrowly slide a few feet away from the net. The Eagles were simply unable to get that big shot through that would have tied the match and given them a chance to pull it out.
The loss to Northern Durham marked the final high school games for a total of nine Eastern Alamance seniors - Nisarahmad Akbari, Julian Crespo, Chris Guerrero, Henry Hohl, Carter Johnson, Braxton Miller, Evan Morrison, Sam Pettigrew, and Jackson Poteat.
“The success of the team this past season really came down to the leadership we had,” Shave explained. “Henry Hohl, Sam Pettigrew and Evan Morrison. It is their example on the field and off the field that allowed us to have opportunities to be successful. They demonstrated dedication, respectful competition, and how to withstand adversity. These boys as well as the senior class set a great template for upcoming players; Braxton Miller, Jackson Poteat, Carter Johnson, Chris Guerrero, Nisarah Akbari, and Julian Crespo. In games, sometimes the matchup demands you play less or out of position to help the team have success. All of these boys faced that scenario and not once did they complain or have an issue.”
“It was after the first home game, when I learned how fortunate I was and that we would have a positive season,” the EAHS head coach continued. “Most programs or teams have the newer players get water or set up the field or run errands for the team, like an introduction to the team. I was witnessing the seniors helping to set up the field and captains get water and bring food and help clean up. Leadership is doing what is needed for the team regardless. These boys embodied that the whole season. The message they sent was “we were all in it”. I think you see the results at the end of this season reflect what all of these boys did.”
The Eagles will return their top goal scorer - Gustava Salas - as a senior in 2020, along with mulitple other key contributors such as Xzavier Smith, Maddoch Engwall, Edgar Muchaca, Madi Ceesay, and goalkeeper Kevin Reyes, among many others.
“We have some talented players returning and I hope they look forward to carrying on what this group has been able to establish. For me, I can only say “thank you”,” Shave said.