At 9-0-1 with five shutouts, St. Pius has not softened since last season when it won its first state boys soccer championship in eight years.
“There’s not really any pressure,” said senior center/midfielder Connor Jones. “It’s more desire than pressure.”
Said senior defender Nolan McKeever: “I think we want it more this year.”
The Golden Lions have developed an attitude toward the season that is as refreshing to coach Killebrew Bailey as it is productive.
St. Pius has been dominant in most of its games, outscoring the opposition through the first 10 games 36-8. Only two teams–Greenbrier and Carrollton–have managed more than a single goal against junior goal keeper Andrew Wolverton. Four of its wins have come against teams in higher classifications, not including a 1-0 preseason win over AAAAA power Parkview.
“A lot of times when teams win a championship they sit back and enjoy it,” Bailey said. “It’s almost like they didn’t win it last year. They’re hungry. A lot of that is leadership. This is important to them.”
The presence of Wolverton in goal has helped St. Pius’ defense come together after key players graduated.
“We have a bunch of guys who play well together,” Bailey said. “To be able to replace three starters off the back line and still give up less than a goal a game is pretty impressive.”
Another state championship would give the school their first back-to-back boys state soccer titles since 1995-97 when the Golden Lions won three straight. St. Pius is ranked No.1 in Class AAA in the state in the Georgia High School Soccer Coaches poll and is No. 12 in the NSCAA/adidas national rankings.
“A lot of their attitude comes from leadership. This is probably the best leadership we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Bailey, who is in his eighth season.
McKeever, Wolverton and Stephen McGill were voted by their teammates as captains this season, and the team has managed to blend nine seniors with a solid group of underclassmen.
“Sometimes teams have cliques but it’s not that way with these guys,” Bailey said. “This senior class wants the best players on the field, and they don’t care if they’re freshmen or seniors. They see the talent in the underclassmen.”
McGill leads the team with 14 goals, but freshman Alex Kowalski has made a big impact on the offense. Other players have stepped up as well. In a rematch of the 2009 Class AAA semfinals, St. Pius beat Carrollton 3-2 on March 27 on a goal in the final two minutes from senior Nick Oliver.
The Golden Lions played Marist on March 31 (after press deadline) and ends the regular season after spring break against Walton, ranked No. 3 in Class AAAAA.
“Last year, it was hard to get everybody acclimated,” McKeever said. “This year, we gelled from the start. It carried over from the end of last season, plus we have a lot of guys playing for the same clubs (in the off-season).”