Patriot Kickers Honored at Banquet
The Pinecrest boys put the punctuation mark on a season that places them among the top soccer programs in the state at last Thursday’s team banquet held at the Country Club of North Carolina.
This year’s Patriots, coached by Todd Abbey, made it to the state semifinal match (fifth round) for the second year in a row. The 2008 squad, coached by Larry Martin, made it to the fourth round. Those three teams finished No. 5, No. 4 and No. 10 respectively in the 4A state rankings.
Among the awards announced on the occasion was the selection of junior midfielder Richard Palmer as a member of the all-state team.
Only seven players returned from the 2009 squad that made it to the fifth round for the first time in the program’s history. The Patriots lost 2-1 to Green Hope, but in August of this year they reloaded. A 3-0 loss to undefeated Durham Jordan was all that separated them from playing in this season’s state championship match.
“When you add 16 new players to a squad,” Abbey said before the banquet, “you really don’t know what to expect. For me there was a progression of maturity from the beginning to where I was sure at the end we would at least make the final four.”
Leading up to the match against Jordan, a 2-0 winner over Myers Park in the state title contest, the Patriots went 9-0-1 in the process of winning their 14th conference title in a row. They also captured the Southeastern Conference tournament championship and finished the season 19-6-2 overall. The schedule included six matches against teams that ranked in the top 15, including Cardinal Gibbons, the 3A state champion, and three others that were ranked earlier in the season.
Seven Patriots earned all-conference honors. Gray Anderson, Patrick White and Kevin Grasso were the seniors selected. Juniors Palmer, Dane Nelsen, Barrett Goulden and Nick Kruyer also made it. Walther Mejia, of Hoke County, was conference player of the year, and Abbey was voted coach of the year.
White, Palmer, Nelsen, Kruyer and Goulden were all-Region 4 selections. Abbey was selected Region 4 Coach of the Year for the second year in a row.
Palmer, the team MVP, was a dominating player in the midfield in his third varsity season. He becomes the fifth Patriot picked for the all-state team and the first to make it as a junior. The others were Danny Milewski (2000), Michael White (2005), Russell Stewart (2006) and Coby Kavanaugh (2007).
This year’s team had a powerful inside-outside scoring punch provided by Nelsen (23 goals) and Anderson (22). Nelsen and Grasso were the assist leaders with 11 apiece. Anderson and senior Chris Sanders contributed 10 each.
Going deep in the playoffs means a team has to have the ability to record shutouts as the Patriots did in the conference tournament final against Hoke County, and in three of the five post season matches. The Pats held opponents without a goal 13 times in all.
Starting goalkeeper Mitchell Dotson and central defender Kruyer were varsity newcomers as juniors. Returnees White and Morgan Van Camp were the outside backs. Junior Chris Potter was also in the rotation and Goulden dropped back from the midfield when Abbey went with four defenders.
“I think we were worried about losing a lot of people in the back, but Nick Kruyer was really solid,” White said. “Morgan was really good last year and better this year. We knew Mitch was coming up (from jayvee). In our third or fourth round game he made huge stops all night.”
Abbey feels the turnover in players from 2009 was offset by having both the returnees and varsity newcomers being used to the system he brought with him after replacing Martin. The prospects for 2011 are excellent with the potential of returning as many as 16 players with final four experience. Palmer, Nelsen and Goulden will become four-year varsity players with two fifth round and one fourth round appearance under their belts. Another successful jayvee team coached by Kevin Rice will help fill the open spots.
For seniors Anderson, Grasso, White, Sanders, Brendan McKinley, Will Price and Blaine Little, their final season was a great ride. Other members of the team included juniors Justin Mace, Koron Kennedy, Jordan Beck, Jimmy Casey, J.T. Stilwell and Max Clare, and sophomores Taylor Morton, Hunter Oliver and Hayden Little.
“I’ve played soccer all my life,” said Anderson, who hopes to major in engineering at N.C. State. “I’m glad I could end up making history at Pinecrest. It’s bittersweet because I don’t get to play soccer anymore, but it’s a good way to end it.”
Grasso hopes to play soccer in college. Being a part of two final four teams is something he will always be proud of.
“I was on the team that made it to the semifinals each year for the first time in my school’s history and I helped make it happen.’’ he said.
Contact Charlie Berg-mann at cbergmann@nc. rr.com.
Team awards: Most Valuable Player – Richard Palmer; Rookie of the Year – Mitchell Dotson; Offensive Player of the Year – Dane Nelsen; Defensive Player of the Year – Nick Kruyer; Player’s Choice Award – Will Price; Tony Buckminster Award – Patrick White.
Team Stats: Overall Record -19-6-2; Conference record – 11-0-1; Goals scored – 111; Goals against – 25; Shutouts – 13; Won-Loss record of opponents – 280-137-27.
Seasons stat leaders: Goals – Nelsen 23, Anderson 22, Grasso 12, Hayden Little 9, Mace 8, Palmer 6, Van Camp, White and Morton 4; Assists – Nelsen and Grasso 11, Anderson and Sanders 10, Palmer 8, Hayden Little and Morton 6, Mace 5, Price, White and Goulden 4.
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