Published: Aug 25, 2011 01:22 AM
Modified: Aug 25, 2011 01:41 PM
RALEIGH - Expectations rose fast for Athens Drive's boys soccer team this season.
At first, the Jaguars were somewhat off the radar after losing several key seniors from last year's team that made it to the fourth round of the state playoffs. But then the Jaguars came away in first place of the season-opening tournament in Swansboro, defeating 4-A power Wilmington Hoggard and 3-A power Jacksonville on back-to-back nights.
Those results placed Athens in elite company -- a No. 4 ranking among 4-A teams in the state and No. 3 News & Obsever area ranking -- but also meant the team had become the targeted two weeks into the season.
On Wednesday, a Southern Pines Pinecrest team made the long trip up U.S. Highway 1 hungry for its first win and defeated Athens 4-2 and in convincing fashion. Athens Drive (3-1) coach Travis Seese said one of the major reasons his team suffered its first loss of the year was the over-confidence the Jags acquired with its red-hot start.
"Tonight was more that our heads got too big. We started off strong and got good results against Hoggard, Jacksonville and - earlier this week - Wake Forest-Rolesville," Seese said. "But we forgot about the hard work we need to go along with it. ... We got a little ahead of ourselves, but it's a good learning experience."
In the first half, Pinecrest -- a prestigious 4-A school from the Sandhills region -- dominated play and the scoreboard didn't disguise it.
The Patriots scored their respective goals five, 10 and 20 minutes into the first half to build a quick 3-0 lead.
"Pinecrest was a great team and they came out and looked the part tonight," Seese said. "This is a wake-up call and I don't think what you saw tonight was Athens Drive soccer."
While Athens found trouble linking up its passes, Pinecrest did not. It wasn't until late in the second half where the Jaguars started to find their form from their three earlier games.
"Technically, we had a real rough night tonight. There were just times where we couldn't string passes together. And our shape in the first half needed to be better than what it was," Seese said. "We made some improvements in the second half in those areas but we can still get better."
Athens thought it had broken through seven minutes into the second half, but the goal was disallowed. A side referee said that no Athens player made contact on a long throw-in that took numerous bounces past a Pinecrest defender and under the Patriots' goalkeeper before rolling into into the netting.
The Jaguars finally got on the board on two shots from the penalty spot by senior Andrew Barber in a little less than two minutes. Barber's goal with 11:10 left was taken on a free kick from inside the box after Pinecrest's reserve goalkeeper was whistled for picking up a ball that was kicked to him by a teammate. With 9:23 left in the game, Barber was taken down in the box, setting up his penalty shot from almost the exact same place.
It was too little too late for Athens, however, as Pinecrest's goal with a little more than four minutes later put the game out of reach. Athens will begin conference play Monday. Seese hopes his team will be able to look back at the loss as something it can learn from.
"We have a lot of potential this year, but we a lot of areas to build on," Seese said. "Going forward, we need to not worry about where we're ranked at but (rather) where we want to be at the end of the year."