2009 soccer state championship team to reunite at Alumni Weekend on August 3

By Paul Batterson, Contributing Writer

When Worthington Christian High School celebrates the 10th anniversary of the boys soccer team’s 2009 state championship on August 3, Trent Smith (WC ’11) and Warriors coach Dan Roads will be the ones shaking their heads in disbelief.

“I definitely can’t believe it’s been 10 years,” said Roads, who guided Worthington Christian to state titles in 2009 and 2011. “It seems like it was just a few days ago. It’s crazy to think that was 10 years ago.”

“It doesn’t seem like it has been 10 years,” said Smith, who scored the game-winning goal in a 2-1 overtime victory over Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy in the Division III state title game. “Social media makes it easy to stay close with those guys. We text all the time, especially about soccer. It’s always great to see each other. It’s like seeing your old brothers.”

That state championship squad will see if they are still as good as they remember being as a part of the school’s Alumni Weekend and annual Alumni Soccer Game at 7:00 p.m. on August 3. The Alumni Team will be coached by Eschel Christians (WC ’99) who was an assistant coach for the 2009 team.

The format for the game will be slightly altered this season with three 20-minute periods and a running clock. The first 20 minutes will feature previous alumni going against the current varsity team. The second 20 minutes will pit that 2009 team against the rest of the alumni and the third period will feature the alumni going against the varsity again. Following the game, alumni, alumni parents, current players, parents of current players, coaches, and families are invited to gather at Grace Light Pavilion for a meal. This includes all alumni soccer players, not just the 2009 team.

Although he is a little under 3,650 days removed from that state final, Smith clearly remembers his game-winner. The center midfielder was repeatedly victimized by a defender’s cross-over move to clear the ball from CVCA’s side of the field. With 7:23 left in the first overtime, the Royals defender tried the move one time too many.

“He had this little move where he’d fake kick it and then cut it across his body. He had a lot of speed, so he’d just burn you,” said Smith, an assistant product manager for Zimmer Biomet in Warsaw, Indiana. “I read he was going to do that same move, so I picked his pocket.

“I always like to try to score from a distance. I hit it on the ground. The goalie went to his right and was going to scoop it up when the ball slid underneath his arm and trickled across the goal line.”

Smith went onto have a successful collegiate career at Grace College in Indiana, culminating with earning All-American honors his senior year. But he said that fluke grounder that slipped away from CVCA freshman goalkeeper Nick Ciraldo will always stay with him.

“I take very little credit for it because it was their goalie’s mistake, but I will always remember that,” Smith said. “It’s the shining moment in my soccer career, the best memory I’ll ever have.”

THE RELUCTANT WARRIOR

It’s odd Smith became the hero of the state final. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to go to Worthington Christian his freshman year. He grew up attending school in Sunbury and looked forward to going to Big Walnut with his friends.

“Going in from eighth grade to high school, I didn’t know a single person at Worthington Christian,” he said. “I went to the open fields and met everyone. I knew their soccer team was awesome, but they were also a good group of guys.”

By the time Smith reached his junior year in 2009, the Warriors had compiled a 33-7-5 record and lost to Springfield Catholic Central 1-0 in a 2007 Division III state semifinal and lost to Ottawa Hills 1-0 in the 2008 state championship.

Going into the 2009 season, Roads felt like he had all the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle in place.

“I think we had one of the best chemistries of any team I’ve been a part of,” Roads said.

Out of the 22 players on that roster, Roads estimated 10 to 12 players went on to be captains and seven earned all-state honors at least once in their career at Worthington Christian. Many of them went on to play collegiate soccer.

Perhaps the biggest statistic, according to Roads, was the number of players who were best friends with a teammate.

“That team was incredibly close,” he said. “They hung out before games, after games, and on weekends. The guys were very competitive, but they were also incredibly supportive of each other.”

CINDERELLA’S STEPSISTER

While Smith’s game-winner is fodder for sports movies, Roads said his team was hardly the lovable underdog.

“We didn’t feel we were Cinderella,” he said. “From the very beginning, it was like it was meant to be. We knew we had a really strong team, so we had high expectations. That helped from Day One; the guys just wanted it.”

The Warriors sputtered out of the gate, going 4-0-4 in their first eight games. Worthington Christian also gave up 28 percent of the goals it allowed all season in a 4-1 loss to Columbus St. Francis DeSales in its next to last game before the tournament.

DeSales, which went on to win the Division II state title that year, was part of a demanding schedule the team put together. In the regular season, Worthington Christian also:

  • tied Bexley, an eventual Division II state semifinalist, at 1;
  • defeated Youngstown Cardinal Mooney, which reached a Division II regional final that year, 4-0;
  • and knocked off Cincinnati Summit Country Day, an eventual Division III regional semifinalist, 3-0.

“The loss to DeSales was a big turning point for us,” Roads said. “We got the undefeated season wiped away from us. That took some pressure off. We could just relax and play our game.”

After the loss to DeSales, Worthington Christian gave up only two more goals in its tournament run. The defense was led by keeper Alex Scott (WC ’10), who had 60 saves and was part of 13 shutouts that year, and defender Caleb Palumbo (WC ’10), who was first team all-state. The defense even pushed the team when it was struggling offensively as 2011 graduates Matt Rickley and Josh Petrel netted goals in a 2-1 win over South Webster in a regional final.

Offensively, the Warriors averaged 3.48 goals a game. As a sophomore, Brett Elder (WC ’12) led the team with 34 goals and was selected second team all-state.

Soccer continues to be an important part of Smith’s life. He married Meredith, a three-time All-American at Grace, and coaches a travel soccer team. Nothing replaces the electricity he felt when playing for Worthington Christian.

“Roads always said we had the talent, but it was up to us if we really wanted it,” Smith said. “Losing the state championship the year before made it even more special.”