Football. Futbol. Soccer.
However you refer to it, it’s that time of the year again and the 2020 season of Calhoun Boys Soccer is on the doorstep.
Last year, Calhoun finished 2019 with a record of 9-8-2, including a 6-2 Region 6-AAA mark for region runner up.
“We had a good, solid group that really carried us throughout the season, but a lot of the younger guys also got some quality minutes,” Yellow Jackets head coach Matt Rice said in a phone interview. “We have several guys that started either last year or they’re two-year starters and I think they’re going to hopefully have a really good year this year.”
Calhoun would make it to the Sweet 16 of the 2019 GHSA soccer state playoffs, but fell on the road at eventual state champion Westminster Wildcats 3-0.
“It’s interesting to say finishing second in the region and making it to the sweet 16 is not a good year, but that’s part of the expectation we have with our program,” Rice said. “Every year, our goal is to win a region championship and to compete, if not try our best to win the state championship.”
Between the end of last season and the emergence of 2020, Rice said many of his players competed for club teams in the area.
“We’ve got a good soccer culture in this area with a lot of really good club teams that help them grow their skills and knowledge of the game,” Rice said. “I think that’s going to help a lot when we get into ... our region games.”
Speaking of region games, Calhoun will face 2019 region champion Coahulla Creek at home on April 14. The Colts ended up taking Region 6-AAA with an undefeated 8-0 run through the group. The Colts would go all the way to state final against Westminster.
“Our region has put somebody in the state finals the last two years in a row,” Rice said. “Regularly, we have at least one, if not two or three teams, in the elite eight every year. It’s always a battle in this region. There’s a lot of really good soccer around this area.”
Rice said the path to the 2020 region title has already started before a game kicked off, centered around preseason conditioning and continual learning.
“We also have to continue to build team bond and team chemistry,” Rice said.
Calhoun graduated eight seniors from the varsity roster last season, so Rice said his biggest question is who will step up and assume those leadership roles.
“Last year, we had a few seniors ... that were without a doubt leaders and had been staples of the team and program for four years,” Rice said. “It’s tough to replace that because so many people become dependent on the leadership of others, but this will be the opportunity for other people to step up and take over.”
Rice said two upperclassmen who have stepped up into leadership roles are senior center midfielder Cristian Vasquez and fellow senior goalkeeper Eduardo Fajardo. Vasquez is a three-year starter and Fajardo a four-year goalie.
“He’s really vocally been a leader out there,” Rice said on Vasquez. “(Fajardo’s) been a four-year starter and ... has really been a leader from the back.”
Rice said he’s been most impressed with the effort and focus the team has brought to 2020.
“We’ve started kind of a leadership council with the team,” Rice said. “They’ve really taken ownership of the team. They come in with a very positive attitude and a solid skill set. They’re there to want to be successful and willing to do the work to do so. I’m excited to see where that positive mentality can take the team.”
For those familiar with Calhoun Yellow Jackets Soccer, one mainstay on the sidelines was Matt Rice’s father, Randy. Randy helped coach with his son last spring and also headed Calhoun Volleyball in the fall. Randy has since retired.
“He’s working at home, but it’s my hope that I’ll be able to drag him out there some,” Rice said. “He’s going to be our bus driver for our away games. I’ve got to always have a standing invitation to him to have somebody that smart, that knowledgeable and that caring. He really goes out of his way to care for all of his athletes.”
The Yellow Jackets open the season on Tuesday, Feb. 4, at Morris Innovative in Dalton. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.
“We’ve got a very diverse population and we look to represent not only our school, but represent our community,” Rice said. “That’s what we carry with us every game. We’re proud to wear the school name and logo on our chest and we’re proud to step out on the field.”
Calhoun’s first region game comes on March 5 with a journey to Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School to battle the Warriors.
“We’re really excited about the season and we want to put out a good product,” Rice said.