The end result of the 2020 season for the GMC Prep boys soccer team was no different than any other team across the state.
The COVID-19 pandemic cut the spring sports campaign short by more than a month, but the Bulldogs had more to lose than most. Coming off the program’s first-ever state championship in 2019, several key pieces were back for the ‘Dogs in 2020, and they were doing some serious damage before the sudden cancellation. The GMC boys’ record stood at 8-0 with a 53-3 goal differential and really only two competitive games played. A state title repeat was not just possible, but probable, and maybe even likely.
“I feel like we were in a groove where everything was coming together,” Bulldogs coach Bobby Jaworski said of last season. “We struggled early on. You couldn't see it in the scoreline, but we felt it within the team based on who was playing where. Finally, we got to the point where we started feeling comfortable after some reorganization. We could have made a serious run at the title last year.”
The bad news was the team never got the opportunity to see if it could hoist the GHSA Class A-Public championship trophy again, but the good news is that a strong nucleus remains to try and lead Bulldog soccer back to the top.
“We have a lot of experience coming back,” said Jaworski. “We’ll also have some freshmen who will be able to jump in and play immediately. I really don’t see a drop in talent.”
Before getting into the team’s forward, middle, and back, there is one off-the-field change for the program heading into this season. Jaworski is continuing his role as a community coach, but rules stipulate that a member of school faculty must be on the staff. Scott Seagraves is filling that role this year and will allow Jaworski to keep driving the bus, so to speak.
On the field, the Bulldogs’ success starts with several players that were integral to that state championship two years ago. Seniors Colin McCabe, Ethan Tolentino, Jack Harris, Eden Kaninjing and Krish Patel are all back to lead the team. McCabe, chosen as The Union-Recorder’s first-ever All-County Boys Soccer Player of the Year in 2019, will hold down the center-midfielder spot where he’ll likely spend a lot of time finding his classmate Tolentino. McCabe was tops on the team with 10 assists once last season ended while Tolentino totaled 12 goals in just those eight games. Harris has spent the majority of his career as a defender but could see time on the offensive end as well depending on the situation.
“As of now, he’s definitely our best defender, but he can make an argument for being one of our best attackers too,” Jaworski said of Harris.
At the very back is Patel as the senior keeper. He split time in goal as a sophomore before taking the job pretty much full-time as a junior when he allowed just two goals in the shortened campaign. His length gives him a lot of range to cover the area between the two posts and below the crossbar.
“Krish is going to do a lot of good stuff,” Jaworski added. “His distribution is coming along and his shot-saving ability is really getting up there.”
The good news for the Bulldogs does not stop with the returning starters. The coach said the battle for first off the bench is a toss-up between three guys, giving the team depth similar to what it had when it won the state title.
The GMC Prep boys are part of a very small region that’s made up of only three teams total. They are joined by ACE Charter out of Macon and Crawford County in vying for the Region 7-A Public championship. The GMC-ACE matchups a couple of seasons ago were competitive, but the two teams never got to see one another last year as sports were canceled just a couple of days before their first meeting.
“I don’t see any drop-off from them,” Jaworski said of ACE. “They’re in a similar situation where they didn’t graduate a lot of guys.”
Region records will determine the region championship and seeding for the state playoffs, which are scheduled to begin in late April. The road to what would be an unconventional repeat championship begins Friday with a home scrimmage before the regular season kicks off Tuesday at Monticello in a 7 p.m. start after the girls game.