As he made his way from the stadium, Trey Walker paused to reflect.
The Alcoa High School boys soccer team had just fallen, 3-0, to four-time defending state champion Christian Academy of Knoxville in a Region 2A-AA semifinal match on Tuesday, ending the season for the Tornadoes. A hoped-for substate berth for a senior class that had lifted the program to prominence the last four years was not to be.
The biggest crowd to ever attend an Alcoa match rose and gave the Tornadoes (13-7-2) a standing ovation as they walked from the pitch at Goddard Field.
"I was OK until that," said goalkeeper Blaise Smock, tearing as he went.
As the stadium lights began to dim, Walker had just the words to put it all into perspective.
"Id like to say something to (the fellow) seniors," he said "The way a man plays shows you something of his character. The way he loses shows all of it.
"Its been a pleasure."
A senior class of Reed Guzzo, B.J. Haven, Austin Womac, Justin Rose, James Stultz, Jacob Thurman, Lester Parker, Sean Calvert, Smock and Walker won three games their first season as Tornadoes. Few opponents took them seriously. Last fall, the Warriors throttled the Tornadoes, 7-0, in a preseason scrimmage.
Things were changing, though. Head coach Tom Gorman began adding the
toughest teams in the region to Alcoas
schedule, regardless of classification, a practice that has become a staple of Tornado soccer.
The Tornadoes took the field with such Class AAA foes as defending state champion Bearden, Maryville and Oak Ridge, among others, this season, coming away with a shocking, 2-1 result over the Wildcats at midseason. Raise the competition, raise their game, Gorman said.
"That was the thing with trying to up the schedule," he said. "I
dont think theres a better way to get experience.
"Were going to talk (AAA state power) Farragut about a match next year. Anybody thatll play us, well go."
Gormans get-tough approach bore its first fruit a season ago when Alcoa won the schools first-ever district crown, a feat the Tornadoes repeated last week. His team may have taken the scrimmage handily, but CAK coach Tom Gerlach said he warned the Warriors repeatedly prior to Tuesday not to take Alcoa lightly.
"I told them, Alcoas turned it around. Theyre not the team you think they are," Gerlach said. "Toms played a phenomenal schedule. I knew they wouldnt be intimidated. They brought it (Tuesday)."
The Tornadoes tore at the Warrior goal for a couple of early strikes, a high-speed burn down the center by sophomore Sam Thompson and a left-footed blast whizzing just wide of the right upper corner from freshman Derrick Brodus most prominent.
Smock was off to a virtuoso performance in goal, finishing the match with nine saves. The Tennessee Wesleyan signee fought back a fierce Warrior charge at the edge of his penalty area with a sliding parry in the11th minute.
Little more than a minute later, however, Chris Pifer put CAK out
front, 1-0, with a drive from out front that banged home
off the crossbar. Andrew Holt added a second goal before the half as the Warriors (14-4-2) assumed command. Brandon Tarrs masterful piece of skill at the 6-yard box put it well out of reach in half two.
"This was really big," Thurman said. "We were hoping to make it to state. Any loss is tough, but I guess if youre going to go out, it might as well be CAK."
Ironically, the Tornadoes played the way the Warriors had in winning the last four state crowns, Gerlach said, an approach hed like to see return as CAK continues the drive for five.
"Theres a determination to win," he said, "and theres a fear not to lose.
"What has been done in the past (by Warrior teams) is their legacy. I told them, Make your legacy."
The sentiment should be much the same for next years Tornadoes, Guzzo said.
"We wanted to keep going, but Im proud we were able to become two-time district champions," he said. "Im glad weve started something that can grow."
Thompson and Brodus form the core of a strong nucleus returning next season. Adrian Womac, Austins younger brother, is really going to turn some heads in goal. There is every expectation the Tornadoes will renew acquaintances with the Warriors at this time next year.
Following Tuesdays loss, Gorman said he told Thompson, Brodus and the rest to expect no less.
"I told them, The torch is getting passed. Remember how youre feeling right now," he said.
For a senior class that put Alcoa soccer on the map, there was only gratitude.
"They have nothing to be ashamed of," Gorman said, "and I hope there are no regrets."