By Jonathan Deal
Athens head coach Ron Oakley knew Athens had a chance to be pretty good entering the 2013 soccer season. With a team chock-full of senior starters and several more coming off the bench, the sky was the limit.
As the season progressed and the wins piled up, Athens began to realize just how special it could be. The Golden Eagles beat every team on the schedule and became the first team in school history to finish the regular season undefeated.
Oakley is the News Courier’s Boys Soccer Coach of the Year for 2013.
While honored to be recognized, Oakley said all credit should go to his coaching staff.
“My name may be on there, but our staff is really who deserves this,” said Oakley. “They deserve all the credit.”
Multiple coaches assist
The luxury of having multiple coaches roaming the sidelines during games and assisting players in practice played a big part in Athens success this season and throughout Oakley’s career. The coaches — Doug Harbin, Craig Stultz, Andrew McCartney and Jim Pate — each play a role in preparing the players for games.
“We pretty much do everything by committee,” said Oakley. “We all bring different skill sets to the table. Looking back it — the coaching staff, the players, a supportive group of parents – all meshed together really well this year. I felt like I was a part of the team as was everybody else this season.”
While it’s true that Athens’ players scored the goals and made the key saves this year, Oakley and his staff are the key reason the Golden Eagles made it to Huntsville and championship competition.
Oakley took over an Athens program 12 years ago that had never won a playoff game. In his first year at the helm, the Golden Eagles made it to the state semifinals before losing to Briarwood.
That was 2001. Since then, Athens has competed for a playoff spot every year for the past decade. Out of all those teams, Oakley hints this past team might have been his most talented.
“We’ve had some good groups come through, but probably not that many that have played four years for us,” said Oakley. “We had that many (seniors) around 2003, but I only coached them for three years. We let the team vote on captains and the guys we have this year have been leaders for us all year long.”
Those captains — Devin Hooie, Wynn Baker and Hunter Brown — are all four-year starters. In all, eight seniors started for AHS this season with more coming off the bench. Oakley said there were so many talented players on the 2013 Athens squad, it was tough getting everyone enough playing time.
“As always, it’s about getting the right players in at the right time,” said Oakley. “We had 15 or 16 guys who could come in and contribute. Over the course of the year, you always have injuries and we were fortunate not to have that many.
“It just all came together. We had good leadership and a lot of players that came off the bench and really contributed. There were several guys that played this year that were much improved from the year before.”
Briarwood, the eventual state champion, became the first team to finally defeat Athens. In that 1-0 loss, the Golden Eagles dominated during the second half and nearly sent the game to overtime several times in the dying minutes.
Oakley said he has no regrets about that final game.
“You’re always tempted to look at what could have been,” said Oakley. “I try not to, because we had the opportunity to at least get to the championship match. It was a fun season.”
While 2013 will always be remembered for how close Athens came to its first boys soccer championship, the Golden Eagles finished that championship run 21-1-1.