Chere’ Thomas was unaware that South Forsyth’s boys soccer team had earned the No. 1 ranking in the most recent coaches’ poll until a friend texted her to congratulate her.
“I was proud in the first five seconds, but later, there’s only one way to go and it’s down,” Thomas said. “So, you’re going to have a target on your back.”
When Thomas approached her team, a few of them knew, but most were unaware of the news. The team knew it was playing well, but were still unsure if they had proven themselves.
“For a few seconds, we celebrated,” sophomore Dino Stavros said. “But [Thomas] reminded us that with the region games coming up, we needed to get serious and focus on winning.”
Patrick Kelly is the only member on this year’s team that was a part of the 2018 War Eagles squad that lost in the Class 7A state championship to Lambert. After winning Co-Region Player of the Year in last year’s shortened season, Kelly leads South’s offensive attack this season with eight goals and seven assists.
“This team is way different from 2018,” Kelly said. “I learned how to fight on the field and fight for each other throughout these four years. I feel like this team has way more talent than before.”
In eight wins this season, the War Eagles are outscoring their opponents 32-6. Other than a 4-2 loss to Forsyth Central, the team’s engine has been on full blast.
“I think we’ve been doing really good,” senior Niko Stavros said. “We started off really strong. We didn’t concede any goals in the first three games. We might have lost to Central, but I think we’re gonna keep rolling and win the region and compete at state.”
“[Christian Carlton's] work ethic and the success he is having is a true testament for our entire team. We will not get outworked by any team in the state.”South Forsyth coach Chere’ Thomas
Thomas is starting two sets of brothers. Last year, she started the Stavros brothers, but this year, Gavin Williams came to South after the fallout of U.S. Soccer’s decision to close its Development Academy.
Williams’ little brother, freshman Nolan Williams, is getting plenty of varsity action this season with two assists.
“It’s been a great experience teaching my little brother how to play,” Williams said.
Thomas said she was unsure at the beginning of the season how her team would fare because of the amount of talent she lost in the 2020 senior class. Players like Christian Carlton had to change positions to fill needs and she just was not sure how it would all mesh.
“Carlton has played center midfield his entire career but is playing center back on our defense this season,” Thomas said. “His work ethic and the success he is having is a true testament for our entire team. We will not get outworked by any team in the state.”
Though his senior teammates might not have been around for the 2018 state championship his freshman year, Kelly’s fellow seniors are making a big offensive impact on the field in 2021. After Kelly’s eight goals, senior Jose Ventura has scored seven goals, and Niko Stavros has five goals to go with four assists.
“We have a lot of talent on this team,” Stavros said. “I think since we all come from different clubs, it’s just getting our chemistry to where we should be. If we can all get synced together, I think we have a good shot at winning state this year.”
Thomas said as long as her team does not become overconfident and continues to “sweat it out” in practice, the goal goes beyond a region championship for the War Eagles.
“Never be outworked,” Thomas said. “Go in and play like it’s your last game. Go in with a championship mindset. If we play competitive and keep that team chemistry going, it’s ours for the taking. That’s not being conceited, but it’s the demand that we are going to work hard.”