By DEL DUDUIT
Southern Ohio Today
Moments like these don’t come around often for some players. And they don’t just happen.
On Saturday, the Wheelersburg High School boys’ soccer team captured its first Division III regional championship by defeating Grandview Heights 2-1 at Ed Miller Stadium.
This Wednesday, they will play in the Ohio High School Athletic Association state semifinals, with the winner between the Pirates and Cincinnati Mariemont moving on to play for a state title.
One game away from the pinnacle.
And to think many coaches and players did not even know if there was going to be a season this year or not, with the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
“To be the first team since 1994 to get to this point, and now be the first team to win a regional championship and head to the state is an amazing feeling,” Coach Jon Estep said after the game on Saturday. “We didn’t even know if we were going to be able to play or not this season.”
Estep added that the players and staff stayed focused and worked hard and followed guidelines in hopes of taking the field this fall.
“Everyone, not just us, has faced adversity this year,” he said. “Our guys stayed healthy and did what they were supposed to do.”
He went on to describe the feeling as “unreal” and added this is a moment that each player, coach and parent will always remember.
“We talked about this a lot and I told them at halftime not to hold back on anything,” he added.
The Pirates (21-0-0) trailed Grandview 1-0 at the break and drew on a previous experience when the team trailed once in the season.
Adjustments were made and Braxton Sammons stepped up and scored two goals in the second half, but with help from teammates.
Sammons, a junior placekicker for the football team, did not play high school soccer his freshman and sophomore years to focus more on the pigskin.
“He called me in July and said he was thinking about coming out for the team,” Estep said. “I told him I was good with it and would reach out to (Wheelersburg football coach) Rob (Woodward) to see if he was OK with it. It all worked out.”
On Saturday, Sammons took a feed from Arron Jolly to tie the game at 1-1.
A few minutes later, a corner kick from Nathan Sylvia was supposed to go to Jolly, but good communication between Sammons and Jolly led to the go-ahead boot from Sammons that found the back of the net.
“We worked on this corner kick for weeks and this was the only time we really got it right,” Estep said. “The ball was supposed to go to Aaron, but Braxton called ‘dummy’ and Nathan got the ball to Braxton for the score.”
Saturday’s win was validation for Sammons that he made the right choice to come out for the soccer team.
“Both coaches were great to work together and make it easy for me to play both sports,” Sammons said. “This win was a result of all the practices and the team chemistry we have. To get the first regional championship here at ’Burg means a lot. I want to thank everyone for taking me back.”
The first regional championship at Wheelersburg took an unusual route to find its way to Ed Miller Stadium.
Precautions with COVID-19.
Different training conditions because of the virus.
A new addition to the squad who happens to be a talented kicker on the football team.
Coaches working together with the best intent of the student-athletes in mind.
Team chemistry and with no jealousy.
An excited crowd that provided electricity.
And an effective game plan.
It all came together Saturday on a perfect blue-sky afternoon.
These things just don’t happen. They are made. They are the product of hard work and dedication and teamwork.