Boys soccer team exceeds expectations, reaches Final Four

Henry Smalley

The Grady Boys’ soccer team fell to reigning state champions McIntosh 4-1 in the Final Four. Despite moving up from 6-AAAA to 6-AAAAA, the boys had a very successful season, ending the season with a 11-5-2 regular season record, and a No. 4 seed in the state playoffs. They were not able to replicate last year’s regular season success, as the team went 14-4-1 last year, but were able to advance one step further in the playoffs, making Grady Soccer’s first ever Final Four. The 2016 team fell 2-1 to Buford in the quarterfinals, the first quarterfinal appearance for the Knights since 2010.

“I think that this year’s team is pretty equal to last year’s team in talent.  We had the potential to break make the final four last year but couldn’t break through,” sophomore defender Nicho Cucchi said.

The regular season got off to a hot start, reeling off seven straight victories after starting the season with two draws.  During their winning streak, the team defeated several rivals in the process, including Marist, Woodward and Buford.  They remained undefeated until they lost to No. 3 Riverwood.

The beginning of the season exceeded my expectations,” coach Nikolai Curtis said. “I knew we would do well and would have some challenges, but the way the team responded to excellent opponents shows that they are a great squad.”

After the Riverwood loss, the team rebounded, defeating Fayette County in overtime but dropped the next two games against North Springs and Decatur.

“We were excited and hopeful during the undefeated stretch, and looking forward to the rest of the year, but after the next four matches when we dropped important games, we had to get back in the right mindset and start working harder at practice,” senior captain Christian Briggs said.

The team ended the regular season on a bad note, winning only two of their last six. The squad was on pace for the No. 3 seed in the playoffs but were forced to settle with the No. 4 seed.

Due to the length of season, fatigue and injuries definitely played a role in many of our games,” Curtis said. “We also had a number of students who could not play due to illness, which occurred more often than last year.”

Although the regular season did not end as hoped, there is still a lot of optimism surrounding the team.

“The road to the playoffs was tougher than we thought it was going to be,” said junior Alex Westin. “Next year I think we could still have a chance at getting a higher seeding and making a run in the playoffs. We just have to set our minds to it and focus on working hard every day at practice.”

The team’s cold streak ended at the right time, as the boys beat No. 1 seeded Johnson in the first round of the playoffs 2-1. The Knights’ run continued as they routed Dutchtown 3-0. In the quarterfinals, Grady ended regulation and overtime play scoreless against Rome but won 4-3 in penalty kicks after Briggs netted the gamewinner.

“It was a bit of a surprise but, we knew we had it in us. We were able to play good defense and turn that into good offense like we had practiced,” Westin said.

The team made its first appearance to the semifinals since 1974. They battled last year’s state champions McIntosh and lost 4-1.

“I would’ve been disappointed had we not made it this far, but we exceeded my expectations,” Cucci said. “Despite that, I was still disappointed with how it ended and I hope we can go farther next year.”

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