GAC's Max Gomas (1) takes the ball up field during a game earlier this season.
The tradition took its hits early last season.
Greater Atlanta Christian’s boys soccer team opened with a 2-6 record, the result of huge graduation losses off its 2009 state championship game. From that point, the longtime powerhouse began restoring the luster to the program.
“It was a two-year process because we graduated the whole team after 2009,” GAC boys coach Thom Jacquet said. “We lost more games at the beginning (of 2010) than we had lost total in three years. We had a game early March, against Buford, that if we lost we may be out of the playoffs. But we played really well against Buford (a 6-1 win) and I think that’s when we turned the corner.”
The Spartans made the playoffs last season, but weren’t happy with a second-round exit. So the entire lineup returned this season, motivated for a deeper playoff run.
Now here they are, hosting the Class AA state championship game tonight against rival Westminster and seeking their fourth crown (along with 2000, 2007 and 2009) in six title-game appearances.
“We had no seniors last year, so we said it was halftime with this group,” Jacquet said. “We’ve got another half with these guys.”
This half has gone pretty well, too.
After an 0-2 start, top-ranked GAC has reeled off 17 straight victories. One of those was a 3-2, overtime win over tonight’s opponent, No. 2 Westminster.
Denzel Clarke (42 goals, second most in school history) scored twice in that victory, including the game-winner in OT. It was more satisfying to pull that one out since the Spartans trailed twice and had to rally.
Westminster (18-4) has that motivation headed into tonight.
“It’s two different styles,” Jacquet said. “I think we’re a lot more of a finesse team, passing the ball around. They’re big and physical and they come right at you. We’ve dealt with it before, so we know what’s coming. ... It’s a matchup of two powers, so it should be fun.”
Tonight marks the last high school game for GAC seniors Clarke, Stewart Abrahart, Danny Knight, Matt Carothers and Kyle Rees, who have the chance to go out with a second title. Abrahart, Knight and Carothers played key roles on the 2009 championship team, while the other two seniors and the Spartan underclassmen are first-time contributors to a team this deep in the playoffs.
“The seniors have been great this year,” Jacquet said. “I couldn’t have asked for more from them. They know how to win.”