Team mentality has turned Berkmar program around

Photo: Craig Cappy Berkmar's Alex Ramos (3) battles Brookwood's Alfredo Rivera (22) during a game earlier this season.

Photo: Craig Cappy Berkmar's Alex Ramos (3) battles Brookwood's Alfredo Rivera (22) during a game earlier this season.

History hasn't been too kind for the Berkmar boys' soccer program.

Year after year the program had talented players, but couldn't put things together on the field.

And head coach Tracy Crouch knows why.

"A lot of the former teams played for themselves," he said. "There were a lot of individuals out there. The teams we've had lately realize the team is much bigger than them."

That realization has helped the Patriots win two of the last three Region 8 titles, including this year where their only region loss was to No. 6 Central Gwinnett (1-0).

Crouch, who spent 11 years at Parkview before coming to Berkmar, realized things had to change within the Patriot program if they were going to have success.

"I had to clean house to a degree," he said. "I got rid of players who weren't buying into team philosophy and were cancers to the team."

Now in his fourth year as head coach, Crouch can honestly say it was for the best. And the Patriots have been rewarded as they will host a playoff game at home against Etowah after going 11-5-1 in 2013.

But the year didn't begin exactly how Crouch and the Patriots envisioned.

Losses to Campbell (3-2), Collins Hill (2-0), a tie with St. Pius X (2-2) and a loss to Roswell (3-1) opened up Berkmar's season.

"It was difficult at first as we tried to get our players in the right positions," Crouch said. "Organization-wise, it took us a little time."

Then things started to click for the Patriots as they rattled off six-straight wins, including wins over South Gwinnett and Parkview.

"That's where things started to turn around for us," Crouch said. "We started to believe we had something special with this team."

Berkmar won seven of its final nine games, including a historic 1-0 win over No. 7 Brookwood on April 16.

How did they do it? Discipline and conditioning.

"We prepare before the season starts," Crouch said. "We start training early, running hundreds of miles around the city. That's my bread and butter. I take physical training very seriously.

"Not to mention a great coaching staff of William Torress and Jeff Welt. We all bring something different to the table, which has allowed us to take care of all areas of the game."

Leadership is another key thing going right for the Patriots with seniors Johnathan Dowis and Alexis Montanez taking those roles on.

Dowis is a defender, while Montanez plays in the midfield. Both are players Crouch said have taken leadership to a whole different level, adding they lead by their actions and not by their words.

Of course, a team has to have players put the ball in the net, which the Patriots have in Gabriel Guerra (11 goals, seven assists) and Kofi Twumasi (nine goals, five assists).

"Going back to our captains, I believe there are two types of players -- artists and soldiers," Crouch said. "Our captains are soldiers. Tough kids, who are responsible, dependable, tough tacklers and win the 50-50 balls. Artists have all the skill in the world that create a lot of different opportunities. You need blend and balance, and we have that."

In goal, Juan Carlos Lopez has been consistent throughout the year. As Crouch put it, "If he gets scored on, it's not easy."

With all of the right pieces in place, Crouch said playing a tough schedule also contributed to his team's outlook on the year, adding that you're only prepared for the playoffs by playing tough teams during the regular season.

One of those included a close 2-1 loss to 5-A No. 2 Glynn Academy, which hasn't lost a game all year.

"We're trying to do our best to get a new tradition going," Crouch said. "We want to write a new chapter in Berkmar history. We believe this team has the ability to go as far as they want to go."

How far they go will depend on the players. Crouch and the other coaches have taught all they could, adding that the players know the schemes and what they're supposed to do.

"I look at it like a parent teaching their kid to ride a bike," he said. "We've done a lot of coaching, drills and every kind of exercise imagineable to get these guys ready. Now we have to take our hands off the handlebars and the boys have to stay upright on their own. They know what they need to do. It's up to them once the whistle blows."