PHILIPPI— On Tuesday, the Grafton High School (GHS) Bearcat soccer team travelled to Philip-Barbour High School to take to the turf against Herbert Hoover to vie for the Region II Championship title.
The Bearcats entered the contest ranked #10 in the state with a record of 12-6-2, after a win at home against Robert C. Byrd crowned them Sectional Champs, while the Herbert Hoover Huskies came in ranked #6 holding a 17-3-3 record.
With a chance to advance to the State Tournament in Beckley, action commenced with tension in the air, as both teams were prepared for battle,
The Cats came out strong, but so did the Huskies, applying pressure to Grafton, forcing them to give up several free kicks and corners.
Hoover was able to use the free kicks to their advantage and would take a 1-0 lead over the Bearcats at the 31-minute mark with a free kick near midfield. A Husky player swiftly placed the ball into the goal off a header, giving his team the advantage.
After several more minutes of intense physical play from both teams, the 1-0 score was carried over into the halftime break.
Trying to collect themselves and control their play, Grafton came out in the second with a slowed passing game, helping them maintain better possession of the ball and opening several opportunities.
Herbert Hoover also remained vigilant in their efforts. Not letting up on the Bearcats, the Huskies formed a counterattack and were able to make a quick play past Grafton’s defense, and with a couple of well executed dribbles, they once again sent the ball into the Bearcats’ goal to widen the lead 2-0 at the 16-minute mark.
Faced with quite possibly the best defenders they’ve challenged this year, the Bearcats had several opportunities but struggled to move past the physical defense and find the goal.
At the final whistle, the 2-0 score stood, and it was the Huskies who claimed the victory.
Assistant Coach Jack Wolverton noted that their opponents’ plan to hurry the Bearcats and take them out of their usual game worked to their advantage and contributed greatly to their win.
“We played well, but just not good enough,” he commented.
While regular season competitions are always tough, these next level matches with higher stakes often present more difficult challenges and fiercer opponents.
“We told them that we raised the bar. Our three seniors stepped up for us, and this is the expectation from now on. These playoff games are good for these guys. We want to play for these every year, but this one still stings,” voiced Head Coach Arthur Knight.
“I told you guys at the first of the season that these young men have the potential to make some noise this year, and I think we accomplished most of our goals for the season,” Wolverton added. “The players have put a lot of time on the field since the first practice in July and got better with each touch of the ball.”
While the loss ended the season for the Bearcats, the amount of growth and improvement the team has gone through is evident and should be considered a win.
Last season, the Cats struggled and finished the year with a 3-12-2 record. This year, through grit and determination, the team was able to turn their record around rather than allowing it to loom on them, they used the loss to learn and turned in an impressive 12-7-2 record, despite facing some stiff competition.
“We have racked up a lot of miles playing all around the state. We don’t duck any teams, the tougher the better for us,” Woolverton shared.
According to Wolverton, despite being class AA, the Bearcats faced four teams ranked in the top 20 from the AAA class and went up against nine teams who were ranked within the top 25 in AA.
“Even though we didn’t make States, we had a heck of a good season. We have had a lot of sweat and even some tears this season. Our schedule definitely wasn’t easy, but we still finished with a 12-7-2 record and a #10 AA state ranking. It was a heck of a turnaround from last season’s record,” he imparted.
Individual player stats:
Landun Hulley: 1 shot, 7 steals, Spencer Copeland: 1 shot, Layne England: 2 shots, Gage McVicker: 2 steals, Colton Sanders: 3 steals, Zach Nibert: 1 steal, Levi Miller: 2 steals, Gavin Wolverton: 2 steals, Devin Weaver: 2 steals, Bryson Kittle: 8 saves.