Judging by the way the 2014 season is going, the Raiders could get their chance at adding to the trophy case.
Walton, which is 12-0 on the season, is one of six undefeated boys soccer teams in Georgia, and the Raiders are ranked second among all classifications according to Eurosportscoreboard.com. Walton also ranks 19th in the nation on Student Sports’ Fab 50 list.
After falling short of expectations last year by losing in the first round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs, coach Bruce Wade says his team has managed to win with a balanced unit that produces from every area of the field.
“The guys are just grinding games out,” Wade said. “We’re not killing anyone. We’re finding ways to win. The guys have been relentless in their work and they’ve been like that the whole season.”
Walton’s first six wins were all by one goal. The Raiders started the year with a 1-0 victory over Class A champion Paideia, then followed up with a 3-2 win over Harrison on penalty kicks. Eight of Walton’s 12 victories have been by a single goal, and the Raiders have posted seven shutouts.
“It’s nice to come into my last year and have so much success,” said senior goalkeeper Michael Jurick, a captain in his second season as a starter. “We’re 12-0, we’re undefeated and I’m playing with my best friends. Everyone likes everyone else on the team and I wouldn’t trade any of these guys for any other team.”
The unit is a good mix of junior and senior starters.
Running a 4-4-2 system, the Raiders start four defenders — senior Jackson Crow and juniors Britton Odey, Kwonmo Ku and Grant Kelly. The midfield unit features seniors Shahean Barzegar, Phillip Adams and Noah Langub, with juniors Chris Jensen and Walker Nance, while senior forward Christian Lucas carries the front line.
“We’re a team,” Jurick said. “There isn’t any one specific player that is head and shoulders above the rest. Everybody can play with the ball and we’re strong and smart with it.
“Nobody panics. We all make smart decisions at key moments and I just sit back and watch the game from the goal line.”
Though Wade credits the defensive unit as the team’s strength, the midfield and forwards play critical roles as well.
“Defense is definitely our strength,” Wade said. “The guys are good in the air. They make great tackles and they win balls.
“We have good speed up top and no one person dominates. We have different players each time creating opportunities and that’s fortunate for us.”
Walton’s perfect season does come with some scrutiny, however.
Of the opponents on the Raiders’ schedule, only four currently have winning records. The back half of the schedule may prove to be a better barometer to Walton’s talents as four of its final six opponents have winning marks.
“You have to play your region schedule for what it is,” said Wade, whose team is 4-0 against its Region 5AAAAAA competition. “But the schedule we put together this year includes teams that either played well last year, or they’re consistent playoff contenders. They’ve all had winning records in the past, but they’re struggling this season.
“Overall, though, they’re all pretty solid teams and we’re making our own luck to win those games.”
With an even tougher slate down the stretch, Wade is always trying to keep his players from not getting too confident.
“I just try to get them to keep their focus,” he said. “We haven’t killed anyone, so there’s no need for any of us to get big heads. We’re not world-beaters. We’re a hard-working team trying to win one game at a time.”
Walton’s goals include winning the region championship and going further in the playoffs than they did last year.
Jurick believes the team can continue winning long enough to bring a state championship back to Raider Valley.
“We don’t feel any pressure,” Jurick said, “but when we win, we just want to win more. It makes us hungrier for a perfect season.
“I feel like we can go all the way. We won my freshman year, and I’d love to get another ring.”