You won’t find any banners hanging anywhere displaying the feats of the 2016 GMC Prep boys soccer team.
The Bulldogs finished just 3-10-1 that year, but coach Bobby Jaworski did see a change taking place. Opponents that had blown GMC out in the past defeated the Bulldogs by much tighter margins, giving the program hope for the future.
That hope has now come to fruition as the program prepares to play for its first state championship tonight against Lake Oconee Academy in the GHSA Class A-Public title game.
GMC boys soccer has grown from being a spring activity for student-athletes into a team stocked with soccer talent. Senior winger Spencer Griffin and six of his current teammates were freshmen on that seemingly lackluster 2016 squad, and he remembers what it was like being a part of that season.
“When we started playing it was just a game to us,” Griffin recalled. “We didn’t get to play that much and we weren’t winning much either.”
“If you would have told me four years ago that we would be in this position, I probably would have said you were crazy,” Smith told The Union-Recorder prior to Tuesday’s practice. “The mindset’s completely different now.”
Just how different?
“It was our goal at the start of this season to make it to this state title game and eventually win it,” said senior center back Josh Walker. “We all know how much work we’ve put in throughout the course of these last four years and especially during the offseason to get here because we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I do think the expectation going into this year was to win a state title.”
That new mindset will be put to the ultimate test tonight when the Bulldogs face the Titans with the championship on the line. GMC has beaten LOA four times over the last three seasons, but the Bulldogs’ margin of victory has shrunken down to just a one-goal victory in the most recent meeting between the two teams that took place on March 5.
Walker says that unbeaten record against his team’s state championship opponent is a point of pride, and something GMC definitely wants to keep intact when the contenders take the field against one another tonight.
“We’re definitely not coming into this game thinking we’ve got it in the bag,” said Walker. “We know we’ve got to come out and battle. We can always take it up another notch. We’ve barely been able to win these last few games. Winning on PKs is kind of scary, I'm not gonna lie. As long as our defense and our offense shows up we can do it.”
“At the end of the day that doesn’t mean anything,” Smith said of the Bulldogs’ 4-0 record advantage over LOA. “We still have to capitalize on our opportunities and get the job done. We know they have the ability to give us a good game.”
While players like Smith, Walker, and Griffin have called themselves GMC Prep soccer players all throughout high school, there are others like senior Michael Barnes who is in his second year on the team. Barnes, a defender, has noticed a change in the team’s mentality in just these last two seasons. Drive and focus have increased as the team has sought to make a much bigger mark on the GHSA soccer landscape than just making it to the state playoffs.
“We as seniors really want to leave our legacy on this school as state champions,” Barnes said.
The Bulldogs will try to do just that tonight when they take the field against Lake Oconee Academy tonight at Mercer University’s Five Star Stadium in Macon. Game time is slated for 7:30 p.m.