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A surprise season

AHOSKIE – It was perhaps the most successful year in school history.

The Ridgecroft School varsity boys’ soccer team posted a 17-2-1 mark in 2007, claimed second place in the Coastal Plains Independent Conference, earned a number four seed in the playoffs and garnered numerous individual honors.

All of that came one year after the Rams lost one of the most talented classes of seniors in school history.

Perhaps none of the team members or Head Coach Aron Martin could have anticipated such a season.

Senior Zach Futrell said, “I thought at the beginning of the year we were going to be in for a long season of losing, but we weren’t. We became like brothers and that’s what really helped us.”

For his part, Martin said he started the season with what he thought was a realistic goal of finishing .500 in the CPIC and earning a home playoff game.

“The more the season progressed, the less I was surprised at what we were accomplishing,” he said. “They certainly realized more of their own potential than I thought they would. I am very proud of what they did.”

Senior Matthew Jones had a more optimistic outlook than many, but still came up short of the actual win total.

“At the beginning of the season, I figured we would have won maybe 11 games,” he said. “My prediction was different than the turnout, but that’s a good thing. I did not think we would be 17-2-1.”

One of the differences with this team, according to Martin, was their ability to win in close contests.

“They were finding a way to win tight matches,” he said. “In past years, we have not done that. That was an ingredient we had been lacking.”

While the season may have been a surprise to them, the members of the squad were pleased with what they accomplished.

“It meant a lot because of all the hard work we put in,” senior Josh Morris said. “For most of us, it was a culmination of three years of hard work all coming together and finally gelling for us.”

Senior defender Logan Kinlaw said he learned from this year’s team.

“It shows me to never give up on my team, because as long as you try, you can do anything,” Kinlaw said.

Jones added, “This season means a lot to me. The group of guys I played with made it a lot of fun and Coach Martin was a great influence on me as well. We gave it our all and showed a lot of heart and have proved that wins games.”

The team worked together well, according to the players and to their coach. That teamwork helped take a team that may not have been as talented as some be more successful.

“These young men were able to keep focused and attain a level of play or a plateau that was unrivaled,” Martin said. “They were not always the most talented team on the field, but they have the intangibles to be successful.”

Martin said he realized how good the Rams could be early on in the season.

“Honestly, it was our second game of the year,” he said. “I had asked Fayetteville Christian to come to our tournament to help show us how good we needed to play to reach the next level.

“When we were able to win that game, I had a feeling we may have something special going on,” he continued.

Another reason the Rams were successful, according to the players, was having a coach that believed in them and who worked with them.

“Coach Martin means a lot to me and this team,” sophomore keeper Ethan Phelps said. “He was with us during the rough times and the smooth ones.”

Morris agreed.

“Coach Martin means a lot to me,” he said. “He has to be one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. He can be tough when he needs to be, but he’s also like your best friend.”

Joyner said Martin had been a good coach for him and he was happy to have another year to play for him.

“I have enjoyed these three years with Coach Martin as our coach,” he said. “I am lucky to get one more.”

The players weren’t the only ones who recognized the hard work put in by Martin. He was honored as the CPIC Coach of the Year, the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association Region 1 1-A Coach of the Year and the North Carolina Coaches Association 1-A Private Coach of the Year.

While he stressed he wasn’t working for personal awards, Martin said he was humbled and honored.

“I appreciate the honors, although I would have traded all of them for a Final Four appearance,” Martin said. “People were very kind to me and I appreciate them taking time to look at Ridgecroft School and what we have accomplished as a program.”

As they look back over their Ridgecroft careers, the seniors said they would remember proudly donning the blue and white.

“The years of playing soccer here have been great,” Jones stated. “I will miss the group of guys I have played with and all the time I have spent with them.

“It was a great time and I will always look back on my senior soccer season,” he added.

Kinlaw added, “I gave everything I had in every match, but I wish I could have done more.”

Morris said he was also happy with the memories he would take with him.

“I’m pleased with my career here,” he said. “I really wish we could have done a lot more in the state playoffs with the teams we’ve had.”

Both Phelps and Joyner will be returning next season and each said they would miss their graduating teammates, but were looking forward to playing again.

“Next year will be tough with losing so many great players,” Joyner said. “We have a few new guys coming up and some guys that didn’t get much playing time that will have to step it up next season. I am looking forward to it.”

“Next year I’m looking forward to working even harder, staying on my game and becoming a lot better than I was this year,” Phelps added.