When the 2017-2018 boys soccer team at Leesville Road High School began, no one expected much out of them. The Pride didn’t have a lot to look forward to after the first couple weeks of regular play games. After the first 9 games, the boys were 2-2-5, the first losing record ever in Pride soccer history. Unsure if they would qualify for playoffs, the leaders on the team knew something had to change.
“Graduating eleven seniors [the previous year], we had to bring in a ton of new people in order to fill in the open positions on the team. With that comes inexperience and youth,” said Jonathan Spear, senior captain of the varsity soccer team. Only half of the team this year has had varsity level experience, leaving the other half unaware of how different the tempo is at such a high level of play.
By looking at the team’s record halfway in, most people wrote the Pride off as an “easy win,” and underestimated they had what it took to come out with a victory. However, once the chemistry off the field improved, so did the play on the field.
The six seniors did their best to lead by example and advise the underclassmen in any way possible. “We gained chemistry and worked on weaknesses as the season went by. We got better as a team and got better individually, which I think showed as the season advanced,” said Ben Zahavi, senior captain of the varsity soccer team.
The momentum the Pride gained from beating the undefeated Enloe carried them to defeat Broughton 2-1 and Southeast Raleigh 9-0. Their season started to look up as the leaders on the team began working hard to make sure the Pride was putting in the extra effort every day at practice. “You have to show up to every practice and leave whatever kind of day you had at school, at school,” said Zahavi.
Being not only captain, but a senior as well, demands a lot of responsibility both on and off the field. “Underclassmen who are unsure of what to do are going to look up to us, and it’s important that you are always putting out the face of a good image for others to follow,” said Spear. The upperclassmen also made several efforts to make the team one big family.
Group chats, cook outs, and team dinners before games are all examples used to pull the Pride closer as a unit. Once playoffs began, the mindset of the team changed and a fire lit inside all twenty-three boys. Other teams still considered Leesville as an easy win and didn’t take them seriously.
Once again, the Pride was written off against Wakefield — a team they had lost to earlier in the season, as an “easy win” and weren’t expected to make it past the first round. However, the Pride ended the game, 1-0 as winners and advanced on to the second round to face off against Apex Friendship who they had lost to, 3-0, once before.
Astonishing everyone, the Pride emerged yet again, 1-0 with a victory on the road against Apex Friendship. “Technically speaking, they were a very good team, and since they are a new school they have all been playing together since day one. Ultimately, I think it was our heart and our determination, and especially our defense, that won us the game,” said Spear.
“We worked hard and battled hard to make it to every ball first, and that’s the mindset we need to have against Green Hope in the third round,” said Zahavi.
Sadly, the Pride lost to Green Hope in the third round, 3-1 but put up an amazing fight. Alex Stewart scored the first goal of the game, making it 1-0 at halftime. However, the team wasn’t able to hang on to the win for the full duration of the game and went home with a heart breakng loss.
“We were able to go on to the third round of playoffs and I think everyone on the team should hold their head high, because everyone has something to be proud of,” said Noah Scott, junior, goalkeeper for Leesville.
“Playing high school was a really good experience for me as a person and a player. The environment is so different than club soccer, and I enjoy every moment, both the ups and the downs,” said Ben Noga, junior.
Even though the season is now over for the boys, the exceeded expectations and finished with an astonishingly better season than anyone could’ve predicted.