WOODSTOCK -- Players have come and gone, but Etowah's boys soccer program has remained a consistent playoff team under coach Robert Holman.
That was no different this year as the Eagles overcame injuries and tough stretches to make the postseason for the fourth straight year.
“The season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but we gave ourselves a shot,” Holman said. “We kind of took a nose-dive toward the end of the year, but I liked how we played to get there. We were in the playoffs again, and you can’t ask for more than that at the end of the year.”
To keep the longest playoff streak in team history alive, Holman had some adjustments to make. Most of the players responsible for starting the streak had moved on, and bringing the new talent to the forefront was Holman’s highest priority.
“Every year, my goal is to get these guys on the same page,” said Holman, the 2019 Cherokee Tribune Boys Soccer Coach of the Year. “They come from different clubs. We’re fortunate to have a lot of talent, but they come from different places and travel a lot during the club season. My goal is to get them in a system that’s built around playing as a team. We feel like there’s enough talent here to be successful if we can get them to do that.”
Trying to bring a young team together caused some troubles early in the season.
Etowah was just 3-3-1 heading into its Region 4AAAAAAA schedule, but Holman was less concerned with his team’s record and was more worried about how it was playing heading into region play.
“I told the guys from the beginning, it doesn’t matter what we do before,” Holman said. “We have five games that are going to be very tough. It’s always going to determine what our season will be. Everything we do in preseason and non-region games is just to gear up to those five games. Mentally and physically, everything we do is getting ready for those five games.”
Even with that preparation, Etowah’s playoff chances took a hit early when it fell to Lassiter 3-2 in its Region 4AAAAAAA opener. A game against eventual region champion Walton was postponed, but the Eagles beat Cherokee 4-3 and eventual state quarterfinalist Roswell 3-2 before locking up a playoff spot with a 4-1 win over rival Woodstock.
“That win against Roswell was the highlight of the season,” Holman said. “Before that, I feel like we were still kind of trying to figure out what kind of team we were. After that, we strung some wins together against good teams and got where we wanted to be.”
After locking up the playoff spot, Etowah’s success took a downturn with five straight losses to end the season, including a first-round playoff loss to Colquitt County.
The Eagles are set to return 18 players, though, and after the experience of this year, Holman said he expects his team to have a chance to push its playoff streak to five next season.
“We have a lot of talent coming back,” he said. “We know what the expectation is here. Obviously, we’re losing some good players, like we do every year, but we know we have the guys coming up who can fill those positions.”