After years of consecutive, demonstrated improvement, GMC Prep boys soccer reached the pinnacle a season ago.
The Bulldogs played their way to a 19-2 record and obtained the school’s first soccer state championship when they came back to beat Lake Oconee Academy in the GHSA Class A-Public title game 2-1 in overtime. The team had fans calling their cardiologists throughout the postseason as both their quarterfinal and semifinal games went to penalty kicks. It was all worth it in the end though.
GMC may not have done a lot of losing on the field last year, but from 2019 to 2020 the team has lost 10 seniors, six of which started for head coach Bobby Jaworski who is now in his ninth year with the program. He’s back in his role as community coach steering the team with GMC Prep teacher Bala Reddy is on the staff as well.
While the 2019 senior class did leave a big hole, Jaworski really has no shortage of returners ready to step up and fill in.
“A good amount of this year’s guys got solid playing time the last couple years, so we’ve still got experience,” he said. “That’s really going to be a strength to fall back on. I think we have a really cohesive team right now. A lot of that is due to the fact that the guys just love the game. We’ve got a lot of skill, but one thing we don’t have is the depth we had last year.”
Leading the way for the ‘Dogs this season are captains Charles Lam, Colin McCabe and Ethan Tolentino, a senior and two juniors respectively. Lam was a key piece of the defensive backline that allowed just 1.32 goals per game last season and is one of only two seniors on this year’s squad. What the team lacks in seniors it more than makes up for with the massive junior class headed up by McCabe and Tolentino. McCabe was and will continue to be the team’s connection from the defense to the offensive attack in the midfield. He was also named The Union-Recorder’s first ever boys soccer All-County Player of the Year for his play as a sophomore when he scored 14 goals. Tolentino is another big returning contributor for GMC. He scored 22 goals a season ago, setting the team single-season goal record.
It’s players like those three along with other returners Walker McDade, Eden Kaninjing and Jack Harris that has Jaworski once again excited. Of course there are going to be question marks after losing six starters and multiple contributors to graduation. A role that needs filling is that of keeper, formerly held by mainstay and Class of ’19 graduate Sean Herndon.
“That’s going to be tough to replace, but Krish Patel is doing a really good job of training and getting ready for the opportunity,” said Jaworski.
Patel split time with Herndon in goal last season so Herndon could play in the field some, but it was the senior standing between the pipes full-time once those later playoff games rolled around.
With Tolentino and other noted scoring threats back, Jaworski feels pretty good about his team’s offensive scoring attack for this season. The rotation of midfielders, led by McCabe, does need time to jell though, and the only things that helps that is time.
“I think the group we have in the midfield is going to be solid, but they just need more experience working together,” said Jaworski. “I think defensive transition is going to be a big area for us to improve this year. We allowed a lot of fast counterattacks and too much space behind our defensive line. If we can get that covered I think we’re going to be OK.”
Asked if the 2020 ‘Dogs have what it takes to get back to the mountaintop, the coach wasted no time in replying, “No question.”
But that’s not to say back-to-back titles are in the bag. The bullseye on the Bulldogs’ backs is about as big as it can get, and Jaworski is reminding his players of that with this year’s practice shirts. On the back is a bullseye with the words “Earned not given” printed underneath to ensure the defending state champs don’t forget opponents will be gunning for them.
Even with the high expectations and the team being a well-known threat, Jaworski does not believe his players are feeling any pressure to repeat.
“This is a new team. When you lose six starters, it really does feel like a whole new opportunity even though we do have key returners. We said really early on that whatever we accomplished last year was fantastic, but we’ve got to leave that behind and not assume that anything is handed to us.”
Both the boys and girls GMC Prep soccer teams are set to host the annual Bulldog Classic Saturday, which is an all-day event. The round-robin tournament is being held on the Baldwin County Recreation Department fields off of Highway 212. The GMC boys kick things off Saturday morning against Baldwin at 9:30 a.m. and will take the field again at 3:30 p.m. versus Athens Christian. The Baldwin boys will also play Athens Christian at 12:30 p.m. The GMC Prep Lady Dogs, the defending area champions, will play at 11 a.m. (vs. Athens Christian) and 5 p.m. (vs. Drew Charter). Both GMC teams have begun the season 1-0 after defeating Jefferson County last week.