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Grant County’s boys’ soccer team made history this past season.
They earned the program’s 100th win, won a school record 11 games and advanced to the school’s first regional championship. But the motivation and desire to do well started when this group of seniors helped win a district championship their freshmen year.
“My freshman year, we all went to districts and won that,” Chase Keeton said. “That was something we had to overcome and this year and we did that, plus some more.”
Since the beginning of the season, they had a feeling this year could be special too, based on the level of talent on the team and their aspirations to leave their mark on the program.
“Chase and I were talking in the beginning of the season and coach had always said this group was going to be the most talented,” Alex Gregg said. “But talent could only take us so far. You have to bring yourself as a team the rest of the way. I made a goal for myself to help bring this team to the regions and I remember saying in the newspaper that we would be a team to beat and that we would make it that far. All year, we knew Pendleton County would be our team to beat. We didn’t come ready to play for the region final, but I’m glad that we set a goal and we went as far as we could. I’m happy with the results.”
The Braves faced their district foe Pendleton County once in the regular season, once in the district finals and for a final time in the regional championship.
“We had a great season and I always thought that we were going to be in the regional finals,” Andrew Hemsath said. “I’m sad that we lost, but I think it’s good because we showed the younger players in the program that it can be done. We kind of paved the way.”
During their time together, the seniors were able to communicate on the field without using words and could anticipate what each other would do. That connection helped them earn the success that came for them on the field.
“Because we’ve been playing so long, we know each other’s habits,” Travis Williams said.
“At first, we were nothing, but we became a team,” A.J. Jarrell said.
With the loss to Pendleton County in the regional championship, the Braves season came to an end and left a lot of the players feeling remorse that their time together on the field had come to an end.
“Now that it’s over, it’s kind of sad. We wish soccer would last forever, but everything has an end. Now that the season’s over, we don’t think our friendships are over. We’re the same guys and the same team,” Raul Maya said.
“Now that the season’s over, it hurts. You put your heart and soul into a program that you work hard for everyday,” Gregg said. “We might be playing together in an outside league or play in an alumni game in the future, but the thing that hurts the most is that we’ll never play together as Grant County Braves. This is a Braves team that will always be remembered for working hard and getting what they wanted.”
Each senior cherishes a different memory from their time together, whether it’s time spent together before games or a specific game that they will remember.
“My favorite memory was the first day we prayed,” Maya said. “That was my best memory. I asked Andrew, ‘You think we should pray, man?’ I think that it impacted each one of our lives. I think that was one of the major reasons we achieved in regionals.”
“My junior year, we were at the Eagle Bank Cup and we tied Pendleton in the last five seconds of the game. We went into a shootout and they missed every single shot. We put almost all of ours in and we won that game and the championship,” Keeton said.
“My favorite memory over the last four years is probably hanging out at Chase’s house before all the home games and playing FIFA ’08. It always led to a win. I don’t know how, but it always did. It got us ready to play,” Williams said.
“Being able to play soccer all through high school and being able to hang out with my friends is what I’ll remember the most. The most memorable was the district finals of my freshman year. I got to play and we won,” Hemsath said.
“My favorite memory is winning the championships in the district and three Eagle Bank Cups. The feeling of winning something is extremely overwhelming,” Gregg said. “When you’re sitting in your car and listening to Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’, it kicks in and it’s something you never want to forget. This year, not being able to be the champions, but making it as far as we did, it hurts. But in my mind, it’s a victory for the Grant County program and in the years to come, hopefully everyone can be a champion.”
“I liked when coach’s sister baked cookies and brownies and I’m thankful for the parents who made food and snacks for us for the away games. I think that’s nice,” Jarrell said.
Each player has advice for those that will try to match what they’ve accomplished in the future.
“Give all you have even if you’re playing tired or hurt. Keep your head up and don’t let the team down. Do the best you can,” Jarrell said.
“Work hard every day. Champions are made through the practice they put in every day. The days you don’t feel like getting up or running hard, you have to overcome that. If you want it bad enough, you should be willing to work hard for it,” Gregg said.
“Stay relaxed and you’ll play your best game. That always worked for me. Other than that, I don’t have any secrets,” Hemsath said.
“Work hard and keep an open mind. Love the game and be the best you can be and good things will happen,” Williams said.
“Stay strong. Take advice from the older players and your coach. Excel in what he teaches you and work hard on your own. Always play with intensity and heart,” Keeton said.
“My advice is to keep praying because it’s one of the methods we used. It worked. We prayed this year and that’s my advice personally. Get to know God because it doesn’t matter if you pray if you do it without your heart, because you don’t get anywhere. It’s not about size or speed. It’s about heart,” Maya said.