The Eagles (11-3, 4-2 Area 2AAAAAA) have won their last three games by a combined score of 36-8 and are gearing up for their third trip to the state playoffs in as many years.
Coach Michael Tuley said that part of what makes the team so solid is that it doesn’t rely on one or two players. Rather, it’s a total team effort.
“There is a big difference this year in the growth of our program,” Tuley said. “We are there as far as being competitive, so I definitely like that.”
Another thing going for Etowah is its stout defense. Several players, including four seniors, have played together since seventh grade.
Defensive captains Sam Ruben (26 ground balls) and Griffin Sinclair (eight goals, seven assists, 15 ground balls) head the group. On offense, Chris Orr (18 goals, 20 assists), Blake Charitat (22 goals, 12 assists) and Connor Smith (23 goals, 25 assists) lead the effort.
“If those guys play their game, we definitely have a good chance to win,” Tuley said. “The other thing is, when we put up double-digit scores, we win. The key for us is to play our solid defense and work the ball around and put points up.”
Etowah has posted victories of 13-1 over Wheeler, 25-1 over Cherokee, 16-9 over Sprayberry, 15-3 over Kennesaw Mountain, 23-0 over North Cobb and 24-0 over Creekview.
In their six losses, the Eagles haven’t scored more than seven goals in any single game.
Because Etowah often wins by a large margin, younger players have been able to see plenty of playing time. Tuley said this is one of the best ways to help them develop.
“We’ve had some younger guys really help us in key situations, and stuff like that,” he said.
The younger group of players includes freshmen Charles Dumas (14 goals, four assists) and Frank Turnage (14 ground balls).
Tuley said he doesn’t pay much attention to rankings and records, instead telling his players to focus on each opponent as they come.
The Eagles play in what is considered the most competitive area in the state. Only the top four teams in each area qualify for the state playoffs, but because of realignment, Area 2AAAAAA is stacked. Of the nine teams in the area, six of them — Etowah, Lassiter, Milton, Roswell, Walton and Woodstock — made the playoffs last season.
“The only thing that matters is your area standing for the seeding that you get in the playoff,” Tuley said. “For this year, obviously, two teams that usually make the playoffs will be staying home. Those area games are a whole lot more important than rankings.”
Despite losses to Lassiter and Milton earlier in the year, Tuley feels Etowah has performed well in the area.
Even in those losses, the Eagles battled. The game against Lassiter was tied 2-all at halftime, before the Trojans eventually won 12-7. In the 6-4 loss to Milton, Etowah was in top form.
“We gave them all they could handle, and they knew it,” Tuley said. “In the second half, they were just trying to run the clock out and get the game over with. I felt really good about that.”
Etowah is third in the area standings, behind Milton and Lassiter. Roswell is fourth.
Etowah picked up a key victory over Walton going into spring break, scoring four unanswered goals in the fourth quarter to rally for a 9-8 win. Jay Crook scored three times, and Connor Smith added a pair in the victory. Goalkeeper Matt McCarthy also made several key plays.
When they return from spring break, the Eagles will face highly regarded teams from Roswell (7-4), Allatoona (10-1) and Johns Creek (8-4). Etowah will play Towne Lake rival Woodstock (9-5) on April 26 before ending the season with River Ridge (4-8) and St. Pius X (3-8). Roswell and Woodstock are the only area games.