Waiting game for LaGrange soccer team
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
Everything was falling into place.
LaGrange High’s boys’ soccer team, despite enduring injuries to some key players, had a 7-3 record, and it was coming off a big 1-0 road win over Sandy Creek to improve to 2-0 in Region 5-AAAA.
What was a promising season has been thrown into doubt for the Grangers, though.
Like every other sports team in the state, the Grangers have been shut down.
On March 13, the decision was made to close all of the schools in Troup County, meaning there would be no games or practices for any of the local high-school sports teams.
Schools across the state will at least be closed through March 31, and what happens after that remains to be seen.
“All I’ve told them is you need to run on your own, you need to do some ball work, things they can do on their own,” said LaGrange head coach Shane Pulliam. “Please don’t do a practice all together, because that defeats the purpose of this. So I’ve tried to stay away from it as far as that part of it. I hope they’re doing something. More importantly I hope they’re safe and well, and I hope their families are safe and well.”
If the season does resume, the Grangers will try to win a second consecutive region championship.
LaGrange took a big step toward making that a reality with the hard-earned 1-0 victory over Sandy Creek.
Senior Josue Recinos had a goal for the Grangers, and fellow senior Logan Lopez had the assist.
Another senior, Jack DeVane, played half the game in goal and had two saves, and junior Cason Blackburn had four saves.
Despite playing short-handed in that game, LaGrange found a way to get the tough road win.
Later that week, the players found out that their season was suspended.
“It almost feels like spring break, but at the end of spring break you know you’re going to come back out, and you don’t know that right now,” Pulliam said. “We don’t know if on April 1 we’re going to be back.”
If the season doesn’t resume, then the Sandy Creek game was the final one for a group of seniors who have accomplished plenty during their time in the program.
It’s a group that includes Alex Bowie, Caleb Ceja, Griffin Sanchez, Johnny McDonald, Logan Lopez, Josue Recinos, Tavian Smiley, Amnder Jurado and Jack DeVane.
“Unlike college where the NCAA granted them an additional season, they’re not going to get another season,” Pulliam said. “They might not even get a graduation, or a prom, or any of that stuff. I feel really bad for them that they’re having to do this, but there’s not a lot we can do about it. It is what it is. It makes the message of you never know when your season is going to end a lot more real for everybody.”
One of those seniors, Johnny McDonald, has missed more than half of the season with an injury.
McDonald was coming off a spectacular junior season where he scored 15 goals and was named the Region 5-AAAA player of the year.
McDonald has missed the past six games this season with an injury after scoring two goals in the first four games, but the hope is that if and when the break ends, he’ll be ready to go.
“I don’t see him having the same kind of season he had last year because he’s missed so much, but I hope he can come back and help with the creativity of the offense,” Pulliam said.
Three other seniors, Bowie, Lopez and Recinos, have combined for 12 goals.
Lopez is tops among that group with five goals, while Recinos and Bowie have four and three goals, respectively.
Sophomore Tripp Hollstrom leads LaGrange with six goals, Bryce Kuhn and Pearson Knight have two goals apiece, and Tony Sosa, Caleb Kostial, and Owen Quimbayo each has one goal.
A year ago, LaGrange went 14-4-2, won the region title with a 6-0 record, and reached the second round of the state playoffs before losing to Marist.
This year’s team appeared poised to do some special things as well, but who knows if and when the Grangers will be able to play again.
“I think we were only trending upward until all of this hit,” Pulliam said.