Jemison soccer makes playoffs in program’s second year

The Jemison soccer team will play at Carver-Birmingham on Saturday in the first round of the state playoffs.

The Jemison soccer team will play at Carver-Birmingham on Saturday in the first round of the state playoffs.

Jemison High School’s soccer program is growing by leaps and bounds.

After winning only one match last year, the program’s first season, the 2015 squad clinched a playoff berth with a dramatic 2-1 win in double overtime over rival Calera on April 14.

The Panthers (7-4-1) will play at Carver-Birmingham at 1 p.m. Saturday.

“To win seven games this year, to defeat both Montevallo and Calera twice, and to advance to the state playoffs is a huge accomplishment,” coach Brandon Gurganus said and then reflected on how the season began, a 1-1 tie with Holtville. “After struggling so much last season, I don’t think that anyone knew what to expect for the first match. We fell behind early but were able to score late to tie. The next game at Marbury (who won their area), we won 3-0 and realized that this season would be different than last.”

Gurganus coaches a young team, with as many as three eighth graders seeing significant playing time, but it is led by three seniors: Michael Angeles, Juan Maciel and Abdias Rangel.

“They decided early on that this season would be different,” Gurganus said. “They led conditioning efforts throughout the offseason and have been instrumental in our success. This team is tough. We’ve played a difficult schedule. Our only loses have come to Helena and Childersburg, both of which have been consistently ranked in the top 10 in class 4A/5A.”

Though the playoff berth-clinching win over Calera was a program milestone, Gurganus said the team must focus on moving forward.

“We have to put this game behind us,” he said. “It was fun and exhilarating, but we have to be of the mindset that making the playoffs is just the first step. We will have a tough first-round match at Carver, and if we are fortunate to advance, a third match with Helena is a possibility. The road doesn’t get any easier; hopefully we are up to the challenge.”

JHS will have to play Saturday without two of its players. Jeremiah and JuMichael McCall are Seventh-Day Adventists, whose holy day is from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday.

Jeremiah McCall is the team’s leading scorer with 14 goals in 12 games.

Gurganus said he lobbied the opposing coach to play the game on Friday but was unsuccessful. The host team is ultimately responsible for setting game times.

However this season ends, Gurganus said he is excited about the future of the program.

“We have a talented group of juniors back next year, and hopefully with another year to get stronger and faster, our young guys will be able to step up and make plays for us,” he said. “The future looks bright. There is a lot of love for soccer in our community, and it’s growing more every day. We had 56 kids try out for this year’s team, and I expect there to be even more next year given the success that we’ve been able to have this season.”

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