The 2019 GMC Prep boys and girls soccer teams came together one last time Monday to celebrate the best seasons in program history.
Both the Bulldogs and the Lady Dogs took care of business in area play, winning their first area championships, on their way to making their marks at the state level. The GMC girls were narrowly defeated in the GHSA Class A-Public state semifinals while the boys were able to produce their first-ever state championship, coming from behind to win their quarterfinal, semifinal, and final matchups.
Players, family members, and coaches all met out at the GMC lake property to look back on the successes of the 2019 season and to say goodbye to a good group of seniors that helped make the programs what they are today. Many players could not make it due to their busy summer schedules, but a few did get to witness the postseason banquet via video chat on their phones.
Area 2 champion/state semifinalists the Lady Dogs were honored first by head coach Tommy Howell and his staff. Howell received an honor himself as he was named the Area 2 Coach of the Year while assistant Jeff Ward was recognized as the Area 2 Assistant Coach of the Year for their work in leading the GMC girls.
The Lady Dogs played their way to a 14-5-2 season led on offense by All-Area players Logan Mitchem, Emily Arp, and Whitley Ward who all reached double-digit goal totals. Defensively the GMC girls were led by senior captains Lyssa Blair and Macie Newell who helped the team earn seven shutout victories this season.
Next up at Monday’s banquet were the Class A-Public state champion GMC Prep boys who won all but two games they played this season. Coach Bobby Jaworski would talk more about all the team’s accomplishments later, but first he handed out the team individual awards. He started by saying that the Offensive Player of the Year honor was a tough decision on a team that won a state championship and had five players score more than 10 goals. The honor was split between sophomore Ethan Tolentino and senior Taylor Sherwood who both impacted the team in big ways. Tolentino set the program’s new single-season scoring record with 22 goals.
“He played striker, and was an absolute dominant force with a blend of speed, touch, and just overall soccer knowledge,” Jaworski said.
Sherwood put together a brilliant final high school season by totaling 12 goals and an astounding 25 assists. In addition, the senior has set a single-season points record with 49 and the GMC Prep career points total with 130.
“One of his biggest strengths was that he was able to drive down on the edge of the field and draw the defenses back into the corners to spread everybody out,” said Jaworski. “We scored a lot early on to this season thanks to this guy and what he was able to do, but when the moment really mattered he was there with the assist.”
Seniors Josh Walker and Sean Herndon were given the team Defensive Player of the Year and Captains Award honors respectively. Herndon was the team’s primary goalkeeper, making some monster saves in the playoffs to help keep the team’s season alive, while Walker was often tasked with keeping opponents’ top goal-scorers in check.
Senior Logan Steinmeyer was presented the team’s Most Improved Award. The midfielder went from starting only nine games a year ago to starting all but one match this year and scored 17 goals along with 12 assists. Two more seniors earned individual honors at the banquet as Michael Barnes was given the Bulldog Award while Dylan Smith was named “Mr. Clutch.” Smith scored 15 goals and had nine assists in his senior season, but became well-known for his ability to come through for the team when it mattered most. He put in the game-winning penalty kick in the quarterfinal against Trion, tied up the semifinal against Atkinson County, and scored the go-ahead goal in overtime against Lake Oconee Academy in the state championship.
The final varsity award was bestowed upon Colin McCabe, a sophomore midfielder who turned out to be a major key in the Bulldogs’ success this season. McCabe scored 14 goals and totaled four assists and also had the game-winning penalty kick in the state semifinals. His play on the field made him stand out to opponents, but Coach Jaworski said it was his ability to step up and lead as only a sophomore that made McCabe stand out amongst his peers.
“Colin put in unbelievable work and played in one of the most important spots on our field that we can really ask for, and as a sophomore that’s a lot. But he had the knowledge and the discipline to stay home and provide the spark we needed in the midfield.”
Jaworski then launched into a lengthy recap of the 2019 season and all the hard work leading up to it. He pointed out that the road to this championship really started when his year’s seniors were just in the eighth grade. The program needed a change in culture, a transformation from a spring athletic activity into a program that was really trying to attain something.
“The first trait that these guys were able to buy into was that the team is bigger than self,” said Jaworski.
One major turning point in the 2019 campaign came just after spring break. The Bulldogs’ schedule featured a rough three-game stretch right off the weeklong break from school, and they dropped two out of those three. Jaworski opted to put things into the hands of his players to see how they would respond, and the coach got exactly what he wanted.
“They pulled practice together. They didn’t let anybody slack off,” he said. “There wasn’t any joking around because we still had ACE and the rest of the playoffs left. I really think that was the moment you guys matured and grew up.”
The GMC boys secured their first area championship the week following that challenge by their coach and readied themselves for the playoffs. The opening round provided an easy win over a lesser opponent, but there would be no more of those waiting for the Bulldogs. Luckily, they got to play the postseason on their home field as they welcomed Trion and Atkinson County respectively, both teams from multiple hours away, to Milledgeville. Both opponents gave GMC all they could ask for as the quarterfinal and semifinal games went beyond overtime and into penalty kicks. The Bulldogs gritted out both wins to earn their state championship berth against Lake Oconee Academy, a team they defeated 2-1 in the regular season. As fate would have it, the state championship game also could not be settled in regulation. GMC had what it took once again though. Facing a 1-0 deficit for the third straight game, Steinmeyer tied the game up with four minutes to play to force overtime, and five minutes into the extra period. Smith ripped a shot that Jaworski said had a “one in a hundred” chance of going in that lifted the Bulldogs to the top.
Out of all the incredible statistics from this season — plus-81 goal differential, 18 different players having scored goals, five players accomplishing hat tricks, an 8-0 record against Class A-Public top 10 teams, a 7-2 mark against higher classification programs, and more — the number that has to mean the most to the Bulldogs is one because it took all of those much larger numbers to produce one team state championship.