The Eagles (13-6) met their goal, and though they couldn’t upset Berkmar — the eventual state champion — in the opening round, coach Chris Stahler was pleased with how his team was able to compete in every game they played.
“With the Class AAAAAA region, and even more specifically with Lassiter and some of those teams, I feel pretty good about it,” Stahler said. “What really surprised me was that we lost three of them 1-0, one of them was a (penalty kick) game and the other we just allowed two shots. I felt like we were in every game. All year, it was competitive for us.”
Stahler said that wasn’t always the case at Etowah. Teams that defeated Eagles 1-0 this season had beaten them 6-0 in previous years.
“I felt, as a program, we took a big step forward. I really do,” Stahler said. “Ultimately, it was just good to see these kids grow up.”
For moving the Eagles up the ladder in Region 5AAAAAA and showing the team was a force to be reckoned with, Stahler is the 2013 Cherokee Tribune Boys Soccer Coach of the Year.
The Eagles’ success this season wasn’t about an increase in talent level, but rather in commitment and camaraderie. Etowah found ways to win this season when, in the past, it didn’t.
“One of my biggest moments this year was, after we had some injuries happen, we went over to play South Cobb,” Stahler said. “We had a different group of kids playing and we were down to them. I didn’t understand how we could be losing to that team, but, 15 minutes later, we scored four goals. It was great to see the younger kids carry the older kids at that particular time.”
Etowah went on to win 11 of its final 13 games with its team-first mentality.
“As individuals, you can only go so far,” Stahler said. “I’m proud of the way we played Berkmar. We controlled that game. We just couldn’t finish it, unfortunately, and they went on to win the whole thing.”
Throughout the season, Stahler emphasized getting the basics right. The importance of that was not evident more than in the 1-0 losses, where even one shot would have made a huge difference.
During the 2012 season, Etowah tied for the fourth in the region, but missed the playoffs because of a goals-against tiebreaker.
“You have to do every game as it is competitive,” Stahler said. “You have to play every game competitively, whether it is region or non-region.”
Stahler built his team from the back forward, focusing on the defense and minimizing how often the opponent scored. He even moved one of his top midfielders, Isaac Walker, to defense because it was what was right for the team.
“With strong defense, I think you can keep yourself in every game and be competitive,” Stahler said. “If you have a strong defensive line, you can find a way to win, and that is the approach we took this season. I knew that is was how we could win games, and they bought into that system.”