COVINGTON, Ga. — Joel Singleton gives a ton of credit to his freshman and sophomore standouts when he talks about the reasons why this year’s Eastside Lady Eagles soccer team is the first in six years to make the playoffs.
Freshman Aralyn Everett, is the team’s leading scorer. He lauds midfielder Lauren Gates, also a freshman for her consistency at midfielder Kyli Greer and Liz Osborne, a freshman and sophomore respectively, have been tenacious defenders.
But when Singleton, now in his ninth year at the helm of the Lady Eagles’ soccer program, wants to talk about the glue that’s caused the young talent to stick, without hesitation he points to a pair of seniors.
Madison Morvik and Camille Johnson aren’t necessarily coach’s pets. But for Singleton, the leadership exhibited by the senior duo has been priceless — not just this year, but throughout their careers.
“Madison and Camille have been with me for a long time,” Singleton said. “They know everything I expect. Their goal was to get back to the playoffs, and here it is. We’ve gotten to it.”
Neither are what Singleton would classify as the overly talkative type, but what can’t be disputed is how loud their actions speak.
“They don’t always take as much as I may want them to, but their play on the field definitely demonstrates their work ethic and character,” he said.
And it’s also showed up in the standings.
Eastside scored an 8-0 win over North Clayton in the team’s final Region 4-AAAA contest last Tuesday followed by a 10-0 shutout against Social Circle on Senior Night. The latter marked the fifth win in the last 6 games, upping the Lady Eagles to an 9-5-1 mark overall and a 5-1 region finish that’s good enough for second place and a home field advantage in the first round of the state tournament.
Eastside’s got a regular season finale with cross-county rival Alcovy set for Tuesday, and then it’s on to the postseason — a spot where, despite the six year drought, Morvik knew the team’s final destination would be.
“I knew it was going to happen,” Morvik said. “Just with the team we have. All of our freshmen are really good. They have the skill level Camille and I have, so it wasn’t hard to move them in from JV and fit them in on this team.”
Said Johnson: “They’re also good at taking constructive criticism, and we’re accepting of their constructive criticism to us because we know that they know what they’re doing. So it’s a good match.”
That youthful skill comes from the fact that players like Everrett, Gates and Greer are club soccer players, which typically is considered a higher grade of competition than traditional high school ball. And Osborne, though a sophomore, has been in Singleton’s program since the eighth grade.
“With Liz and Camille Johnson on defense, it’s been a senior-sophomore combination that’s been strong for us,” Singleton said.
The start of the season left a little to be desired, however, as the seasoned veterans struggled to mesh a bit with the rising talent. Eastside opened the season with two losses — a 5-1 setback to Apalachee and a 10-0 drubbing at the hands of a solid Rockdale squad.
But let Singleton and Johnson tell it, it was a pair of games Eastside didn’t win that helped them see the potential this team had.
“I would say that Woodward Academy game was it for us,” Singleton said. “We lost 3-1. Two of their goals probably shouldn’t have happened. But I think we were a little surprised because last year they beat us 7-0 and they’re still very good. In the second half we held them to no goals, and then the next game we went out and beat Salem 9-1 after they beat us last year in PKs.”
Johnson points to Eastside’s fifth game of the season — a 2-2 tie with Morgan County — as the difference-making moment for her.
“I always will say this. I think after the Morgan County game, that game changed things for me,” she said. “Because I feel like that’s the game we all connected the best. And I feel like the momentum of all of us as a team wanting to make it to the playoffs has helped. In the past we’ve doubted ourselves. But I think that Morgan County game helped our confidence.”
Eastside perhaps had reason to feel a bit shaky about its postseason chances, given the way its previous three seasons prematurely ended.
“We’ve missed it by one game for three straight years,” Singleton said. “Last year we lost two games in the region on PKs in overtime. That same thing happened the year before. So we went from a possible No. 3 seed to just being out.”
Morvik said team chemistry is a big part of it.
“We have a team now that nows how to work with each other as teammates,” she said. “Where before, we’ve only had one or two who were really good, and everyone else was just kind of looking to them. Normally against good teams we would get skittish and back down and not come out as hard as they do. But I think now we’ve got the talent.”
“And we posses the ball better, instead of getting it and whacking it up the field,” Johnson chimed in.
And it’s that camaraderie, and a more focused mindset that Johnson says she and her team will be banking on come playoff time, even as they strive to finish strong against Alcovy and Locust Grove Tuesday and Friday.
“I just believe that you can do anything you set your mind too,” she said. “And I believe if we set our mind to making it all the way (in the playoffs), then we can make it all the way.”