The Calhoun Yellow Jackets looked as though they were hitting a hot streak as the 2020 season came to a sudden end. Concluding on a three-game win streak, Calhoun was 4-2 and undefeated at 2-0 during its last run in Region 6-AAA. Today, we peer back at head coach Matt Rice’s squad and what they accomplish during a shortened year.
Equipped with a 19-man strong roster, Rice said he appreciated the team’s focus and dedication from the first time the team met for preseason work.
“We started much earlier do little voluntary offseason workouts in the weight room and getting together to go running,” Rice said. “Once we got a chance to get out on the field together, it was never an issue of ... who’s going to be at practice today and who’s not. They were committed. They were working hard and I think we were growing throughout the season.”
The 2020 season was supposed to begin on Tuesday, Feb. 4, at Morris Innovative, but consistent rain washed out much of February’s games. In fact, of Calhoun’s eight originally scheduled February games, the Yellow Jackets only played half of them.
“We’ve never had a spring with this much rain before,” Rice said. “(We spent) a lot of time ... in the gym and the weight room, but I thought we were growing as a program.”
Calhoun finally opened its 2020 season with a 3-0 victory over Cedartown at Calhoun High School. The Yellow Jackets would then fall to Northwest Whitfield and at East Paulding before returning to friendly confines against the Dawson County Tigers on Feb. 28.
On a blisteringly-cold Friday night, the Jackets battled in a momentum roller coaster versus Dawson County. After going up 2-0 early, Calhoun had an in-half meltdown as the Tigers tacked on five consecutive goals before the end of the first half. Through 40 minutes, Calhoun trailed 5-3.
The next 40 minutes saw Calhoun tie the game, then score minutes into the second 10-minute session of overtime and hold on for a thrilling 6-5 win.
“Dawson County’s always been one of those state powerhouse-strong programs and so that’s why I was excited to be able to get that game on the schedule and play against such a good program,” Rice said. “I think that was characteristic of an early-season game. We started out well, then we had a big lull and then we started gradually building back up. It’s something to build on and I think (the team) knew what they were capable of.”
Rice said the Dawson County game provided an example of players stepping up to the challenge.
“We want to get playing time, we want to get experience and we want to find our starting 11 and then our supporting players that can come off the bench and step in and serve in roles,” Rice said. “It gave us a little bit of insight into who we are. It also gave us a little bit of gut check.”
The Yellow Jackets continued their momentum into Region 6-AAA competition, knocking off Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe 6-5, then dismantling Haralson County 10-0.
At 2-0 in the region, Calhoun was preparing for its third region tilt against the Ringgold Tigers on Thursday, March 12. However, that afternoon, Rice received a phone call informing him Ringgold would not be traveling that day.
“We were standing at the field and got a call from the coach from Ringgold,” Rice said.”The field was set up, the girls team had started their warms up when we got the phone call. (I) sent out a message to the players ... we’re canceled for today. The plan is to practice tomorrow. Shortly after that, we got a message that practice and games were suspended for a period of time.”
Eventually, all spring sports would be canceled across the state, ending any aspirations at a run to the top spot in the region or state playoffs.
“It was a very abrupt ending and it made me really sad, especially for the seniors,” Rice said. “I’ve seen them grow from sixth graders through 12th graders and its really sad we couldn’t finish out the season. We’re upset and we hate the situation, but we understand that there was something much bigger going on.”
The Yellow Jackets had seven seniors in total. They are listed below:
Alex Ambrocio — played on defense
Eduardo Fajardo — played at goalkeeper. Also started as Calhoun Football’s kicker.
Jonathan Guevara — played on defense
Mario Marroquin — played on defense
Kendal Servin — played on defense
Cristian Vasquez — played at midfield
Jame Vo — played at goalkeeper
The senior class has three region runners-up to their name, along with an elite eight appearance in 2017, a state final in 2018 and a sweet 16 berth last year.
“I think they’re champions and they’ve always have been that,” Rice said. “They’ve always ... followed in that same tradition of Calhoun Soccer, bringing success to the program. I think they have the right attitude and the right mentality as well that they show up every day and they’ve ready to work. They’re supportive of their classmates and I think that’s going to help this group continue to be a huge success later on in life.”
When looking back on the 2020 team, Rice said he would remember a fun, talented and exciting group of athletes.
“I’ll remember the faces, the jokes ... I’ve known a lot of these players throughout their high school career and middle school career,” Rice said. “These relationships will certainly be a lasting thing. The smiles on their faces and their personalities are going to mean more than any outcome of any game.”