“By him making us play as a team, we’ve enjoyed playing soccer a lot more,” Hobbs said.
Indeed, the Warriors (15-2) spread the ball around, as 17 of the team’s 22 players either had an assist or goal during the season and the group outscored its opponents 88-21. And for senior forward and captain Tyler Neal, who was in his second year playing soccer for Oak Mountain, that team-centered approach was what set the Warriors apart from their opponents.
“Every other team we played against, I noticed a lot of them would focus on their better players. They would try to get it to the ‘good guy,’” Neal said. “That never works. You always just have to play as a team because we have a lot of good players, but we don’t have any stars.”
Senior midfielder and captain Matthew Gilleran, who was in his first year on the team, said it wasn’t an automatic process, but it didn’t take long for OMA’s guys to put aside their differences and stay focused on the good of the team.
“We started off having some problems playing as a team. You know, we want to play as individuals,” Gilleran said. “We got rid of that pretty quickly, and whenever we played as a team, we won.”
Not only did they win, but the Warriors gained confidence as they learned to trust each other.
“When (that) happened, I felt like we could take on anyone,” freshman midfielder Bora Gunay said.
Sophomore goalie Jack Emmons saw the players bond both on and off the field.
“We became good friends, the seniors and the freshmen and everybody coming together,” Emmons said.
The guys’ coach said much of the reason the team did well was because the players were so coachable.
“They are very intelligent, smart kids,” Vedat Gunay said. “You don’t have to explain (to) them 25 times what to do.”
According to Neal, a turning point came in a 7-1 late-season home win against LaGrange Academy, a team that had previously had the Warriors’ number. And to Gilleran, once the team clicked, there was no turning back.
“After our first couple weeks, we started jelling so well as a team,” Gilleran said. “It just all came together. I knew it was going to be a good season after that.”
A 4-1 semifinal victory last Wednesday against Monsignor Donovan put Oak Mountain in Saturday’s championship in Macon, which the Warriors won 4-1 against First Presbyterian Christian (Hinesville). Heading into that game, Gilleran could tell his teammates were well-prepared.
“Everybody’s attitude was different. They were serious. I had never seen them so focused before,” Gilleran said. “They wanted it, and they were ready to play.”
It was a strong statement, a state championship — something not necessarily expected of OMA going into the season.
“It was an experience. Nobody expected a lot of us this year,” Gilleran said. “We came together when it counted.”
And to Neal, it brought a feeling he hopes lasts for some time to come.
“It was the most accomplished, rewarding feelings I’ve ever felt,” Neal said.