COVINGTON, Ga. — It was just before the Druid Hills game.
Eastside girls soccer coach Joel Singleton knew the stakes, but he wanted to make sure his players did too.
The Lady Eagles had already lost to Woodward Academy earlier in the season — a 3-0 game that everyone from Singleton down wished they could have back — so the hopes for a Region 4-AAAA championship were gone.
But home field advantage in the state playoffs as a No. 2 seed was just as good and still in play. That’s what Singleton had preached since the Woodward loss, and that was what was at stake for Eastside back on April 16 when the Lady Red Devils came into Sharp Stadium.
So right before his team took the field, Singleton felt he needed to give his troops one last matter-of-fact charge.
“I told them that tonight it’s simple. Win and we’re home for the first round,” Singleton said. “Lose and we’re traveling somewhere else.”
Singleton recalled the story as if he didn’t particularly expect any of his players to vocally respond.
One player did respond.
“It was Aralyn Everett,” Singleton said. “She just spoke up and said real plainly, ‘Coach, we’re not going to lose this game.’”
Turns out the sophomore striker was a bit of a prophet that night.
Eastside defeated Druid Hills 3-1 and clinched home field advantage with the region’s No. 2 seed. As for Everett, the diminutive Lady Eagle had a hand in two of Eastside’s three goals. The first was an assist to Mya Cummings. Later, Everett herself would drill one in as an insurance score.
And the fact that Everett’s play was just as bold as her pregame prediction was not surprising in the least for Singleton. The tenacity Everett showed that night has been a constant since she stepped foot onto Eastside’s campus as a freshman.
“You know how they say in football that a player’s got that dog in them,” Singleton said. “That’s her. She’s got that dog in her where it’s like nothing rattles her. She’s not afraid to go after it and mix it up. Honestly, I’ve got a few girls on this team who are like that and who have that dog in them which is something we probably haven’t had to this degree before.”
Though diminutive in stature, Everett’s bite has actually proven to be even more ferocious than her bark. She doesn’t do a lot of trash talking on the field. And that pregame prediction of hers probably isn’t the kind of thing she habitually vocalizes. But there are at least 34 reasons why a whole bunch of talk isn’t necessary.
That’s 34, as in the single-season school record for goals scored — a record the sophomore now holds.
FROM THE STANDS: Aralyn Everett's game-winning goal at Richmond AcademyJust 22 seconds into the overtime period, Eastside sophomore Aralyn Everett netted the deciding score in the Lady Eagles' 1-0 Sweet 16 win in Augusta. Video Cred: Mike Harrison
Everett netted number 34 Wednesday night in dramatic fashion when she slotted one in past the Richmond Academy keeper to give No. 9 Eastside a 1-0 Sweet 16 win on the road in Augusta. That win propelled Eastside to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history.
It also proved true the lifelong advice Everett said she’s been given that’s helped spur her aggressive play on the pitch.
“For me, I’ve always been pushed to be the best,” Everett said. “My parents and coaches have always said you have to want it for yourself. When you want something that bad, you do all you can to be the best player you can be. Playing with that edge makes you work harder. Every ball that comes your way is yours and you’re not going to let anyone else outwork you.”
Eastside has certainly benefited from Everett’s edge on both sides of the ball. While the 103 goals the Lady Eagles have scored this year is 17 goals better than Region 4-AAAA’s next highest scoring squad — and the best team goals total for a season in school history — the edge Everett plays with translates to defense as well.
Eastside’s clean sheet performance against Richmond Academy was the 10th shutout of the season, tying the school record for shutouts with the 2012 Eastside team that, at one point, was arguably the standard bearer for Lady Eagles soccer excellence.
On Wednesday, Eastside keeper Anna Shelton only had two saves. That’s because Eastside’s team defense stymied Richmond Academy all night, and kept their players from getting shots on goal.
Singleton and anyone else who watched them Wednesday night said the entire team played with — yep, you guessed it — an edge on defense all night long. Everett says that comes from a desire to win that’s become contagious since the end of last year.
“I feel since we made it (to the playoffs) last year, we are all hungry for more and want to go farther than we did,” she said. “We push each other and work hard every time we step on the field, whether it’s for practice or a game. I believe the whole team plays with this aggression and I think it’s amazing. We all want to win and we won’t let anyone take that from us. Even through upsets, we find a way to bounce back.”
When adding in her 28 goals from the 2018 season when she was named the All-Covington News Freshman of the Year, Everett has 62 in her first two high school seasons, making her one of the most prolific scorers in the state. But whether it’s Singleton talking about her or Everett talking about herself, you don’t hear much individuality from her. Though an emerging star in her own right, she’s fully embraced the team concept.
“We support and love each other no matter what,” she said. “If one of us makes a mistake, we all push that girl to keep going and shake it off. Every girl has another girl’s back with every second of the game.”
Individually speaking though, Everett’s confidence has noticeably increased since her first year in high school. She said she worked hard in the offseason to increase her ball skills and to perfect moves and add other offensive maneuvers to her repertoire that she didn’t have last year.
But the two things that have set her apart from the get-go — her speed and aggression — have made her a constant threat, even in moments where mechanics may have been lacking.
“As a team, we like to play quick and attack and penetrate the defense as soon as we see an opening,” she said. “Once we get going on offense and I see my chance to slip past the defense, I trust my teammate can deliver a ball, and I know she trusts me to bury her ball in the net. Likewise, I’m always looking for an opportunity to assist a player and I’m confident she’ll be able to finish.”
Everett said she’s already thinking about her future beyond high school, both on and off the pitch. And while it’s a bit early for her to start talking about schools that may be interested in her, she already knows the kind of school that’s ideal for her — and it isn’t just about the soccer.
“It’s a huge dream of mine to play at the college level,” she said. “But my dream school would be anywhere that my passion for soccer meets my passion for learning. I definitely want to play high-level collegiate soccer, but I also want to be at a school where I can achieve my academic pursuit of becoming a lawyer.”
But first thing’s first. Before she can start thinking about two years down the road — or even two months down the road — there’s still some unfinished business in her sophomore campaign to attend to.
Eastside will host No. 5 Blessed Trinity Tuesday at Sharp Stadium for the chance to punch its ticket to the Class AAAA Final Four where the Eagles would play either Northside-Columbus (15-4) or top-ranked St. Pius X (14-3-2).
Everett makes no bones about her desire to win and keep hopes for a state championship alive. But regardless of Tuesday’s outcome Everett said she’s fortunate to be able to share this time with the ones most responsible for helping her keep her edge.
“It feels great,” she said. “I love every girl on this team, so being able to share this moment with them and go down in history is just amazing.”