It took the Alcoa High School boys soccer team 20 years to reach the state tournament for the first time last season.
It’s going to take at least another year for the Tornadoes to bring home that first title.
One thing is certain after an opening round loss to top-ranked Chattanooga Christian at the Class A/AA state tournament on Tuesday at Spring Fling, Alcoa can now consider itself a soccer program.
The Chargers got a late second-half goal from Adam Ryan to prevail, 1-0, in a hotly-contested match. The same two teams met in last season’s tournament opener, with the Tornadoes stunning the then-No. 1-ranked Chargers in a sudden-death, penalty-kick shootout after a 1-1 tie in regulation.
Alcoa went on to reach the championship game, where it fell, 4-2, to defending state champion Christian Academy of Knoxville.
Tuesday’s loss stung, but Alcoa coach Tom Gorman seemed more resolved than disappointed after the match.
“I’m not going to second guess it,” he said, “1-0, and we weren’t even supposed to be in the game. I don’t think anybody picked us. We just ran out of time.”
It is in returning to Murfreesboro this season against which the Tornadoes (12-11-2) are best measured. Last season’s team, championed by goalkeeper Adrian Womac, midfielder Sam Thompson, leading scorer Andrew Mitchell and sweeper Dusty McClanahan, could easily have been dismissed as one good year had Alcoa not returned.
That seniors Derrick Brodus, Eric Lusinger, Roberto Castro, James Chinn, Joe Cooper, Daniel West, T.J. Wingo and Chawawatt Ahkarabunditwong could get the Tornadoes back to state says a lot about how far Gorman has brought Alcoa soccer in six seasons as coach.
“I think they (the Tornadoes) got tired of people saying they couldn’t do it,” Gorman said. “I think they just decided they didn’t want to go out (without a return to state).”
The players returning next season say much about how close a championship may actually be.
Alcoa faced the Chargers (20-1-2) on Tuesday with four starters having been lost since the start of the season.
“Just with what we’ve had to go through, you can’t say enough about these kids,” Gorman said.
The loss of defenders Harrison Powell and Forrest McCullough to injury late in the year were big hits to absorb in more ways than one. Both were shut-down backs. Both were having great seasons before being lost. Without them, Gorman was forced to move the play-making Lusinger, the hero of last season’s upset of the Chargers, to sweeper for the postseason.
“After Harrison and Forrest got hurt, the state tournament never seemed farther away,” Lusinger said.
The versatile senior’s tenacity at the back helped compensate for their loss, Gorman said.
“Eric Lusinger has played the best soccer he’s ever played for us the last two games,” he said. “He doesn’t back off from any tackle. That kid pretty much lays his body on the line every tackle.”
Lusinger sent last season’s contest to overtime with a strike from 20 yards inside the final 10 minutes. He very nearly did it again on Tuesday, escaping down the right side shortly after the Ryan goal.
Changing things at the back so late in the year would never have worked without the emergence of sophomore goalkeeper Tyler Reed this season. Reed withstood or knocked away several hard shots on Tuesday. The winning Charger goal came on a well-played crossing pass from Chattanooga Christian’s Will Taylor, which Ryan collected unmarked and dead on less than 15 yards from goal.
Defenses win championships in soccer, too. With Reed returning next season, Alcoa will field an awfully strong one.
Brodus, one of the state’s top-ranked players, will be a big loss. With Lusinger at the back and sophomore standout Austin Stone slowed by a hip injury, Brodus towed a pair of Chargers defenders with him everywhere he went Tuesday.
After scoring the game-winning goal in a 1-0 win at sectionals to reach the state tournament, Brodus said earlier this week the Tornadoes didn’t have a problem with drawing the No. 1-ranked team in the opener for the second consecutive year.
“To be the best you have to beat the best,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to have the easy path to the championship.”
Junior Jonathan Burkhalter’s play in midfield on Tuesday was an indicator the Tornadoes have a cool-headed player in the offense who can make Alcoa just as dangerous next season.
Freshman Mario Orihuela is potentially dynamic on the outside. Fellow freshmen Josh Purvis and Sam Webster have learned much stepping in for Powell and McCullough at the back.
Burkhalter was philosophical earlier this week upon learning the Tornadoes had again drawn the Chargers.
“All we’ve had this season is challenges,” he said. “It’s one more to add to the list.”
A healthy Stone next spring, and Alcoa would be hard pressed to return any stronger.
“The future’s pretty bright,” Gorman said. “They (the Tornadoes) know what the expectations are.”
Prior to the season, Alcoa assistant coach Larry Fowler said he and Gorman emphasized to the Tornadoes the importance of being the best they could be this year.
“We told them, ‘We don’t want you to be last year’s team,” Fowler said. “’You’ve got to set your own pace.”
Next season, he said, will be no different.
“This is what it takes to get there,” Fowler said. “Now they know.”
Thirty-two players were there for tryouts earlier this spring. For the first time in school history, an Alcoa soccer team was forced to have a cut.
That, Fowler said, says it all.
“When you have 60 something kids playing soccer, that’s a program,” he said.
Runners take your marks
The state track and field championships began Wednesday afternoon at Middle Tennessee State University, with the girls section of meet getting things underway. Much of Wednesday’s races were preliminary events, with most finals scheduled for Thursday. Maryville junior and sectional 100-, 200- and 300-meter champion Julia Petree is among the favorites in three events.
The boys meet begins later Thursday with Maryville senior Clint McKelvey going off in the 3200-meter run.
The Duke signee will attempt a rare double when he contests the 1600 on Friday. McKelvey set meet records at both distances in winning sectional runs a week ago.
Maryville’s Ryota Yoshida is back in the state doubles tennis tournament for the third consecutive year, this spring pairing with Rebel teammate Yusuke Yodono in his quest for a state title.
Yoshida reached the finals with former doubles partner Lucas Kelly the last two seasons. Yodono and Yoshida open their championship bid Thursday morning at Old Fort Park.