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Soccer Ads No. 1
Student Sports names FHS boys soccer team as national champs


With a shout of raw excitement, Farragut High School soccer coach Wallie Culbreth left some wonderful news on a friend’s answering machine last Thursday evening.

“We are the National Champions. I think that’s cool, don’t you?”

About a month after winning its second consecutive Class AAA state championship, the FHS boys soccer team (24-2-0 record) got the great news late Thursday, June 24.

The Student Sports publication — who has one of two nationally recognized high school soccer polls — released its final FAB 50 poll where the Admirals remained No. 1, making them national champions for 2004.


This was also a reversal of fortune for FHS and Student Sports’ No. 2-ranked team from Tacoma, Wash., Bellarmine Prep (final 20-0-2 record).

In the final National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll — the other nationally recognized poll — Bellarmine was crowned National Champion and FHS No. 2.

Despite the two losses as compared to Bellarmine’s unbeaten season, “They looked at our competition, the teams we played and who everybody else played,” said Culbreth, who has been head coach of the FHS boys for three seasons. “It’s something that we really wanted and thought we might accomplish this year.

“After looking at competition around the country, and seeing everything, I definitely know that I had a team that was high caliber.”

Five Farragut opponents finished among the nation’s top 50, four of whom fell victim to the Admirals: Though losing to Christian Brothers of Memphis (No. 9), FHS beat No. 18 Dalton High School (Ga.) and twice defeated No. 22 McMinn County, including a 7-3 state quarterfinal win. Farragut whipped No. 38 Oak Ridge three times, including 5-0 in the Class AAA state title game, and No. 42 CAK, who won its second straight Class A/AA state title in May.

The Admirals also came full circle, as evidenced by the Student Sports article proclaiming Farragut as national champions: “It’s a saying everyone has heard: ‘It’s not how you start, but how you finish.’ In the case of the Farragut (Knoxville, Tenn.) boys soccer team, it ended the spring campaign the same place it started — FAB 50 No. 1.”

Although having to wait for the final rankings about 10 days longer than what Culbreth was originally told, “it was definitely worth the wait,” he said. “I got a call (early last week) saying it would be out in two days.”

JOYFUL REACTIONS

“I called the athletic director (Mike Carroll) and I e-mailed the kids because they’re all over the place right now,” Culbreth said about getting the good news out to all his players, coaches, FHS administrators and boosters.

“I was quite shocked somewhat, we started off (No. 1) and lost,” junior forward Brad Pease said of his first reaction. “I was pleased that all the work we put in paid off.

Pease said his team felt the pressure that went with being No. 1-ranked in the nation at the start of the season. “After our first loss to Christian Brothers, I was kind of glad we lost to get that national thing out of our minds,” he said. “We (ended up) number one without worrying about it all season.

“It felt much better because we all felt like we had to keep that up, but as soon we dropped off (in the national rankings) it kind of helped us, we could calm down and relax and play our game better.”

COMING A LONG WAY

When he took over the FHS team in 2002, Culbreth said that despite the talent around him, “I didn’t envision we’d get this high. It’s not that I didn’t think we had good players, but it takes a lot things to do this.

“First of all you have to play the right schedule, and consistently for the last three years, I’ve played a tough schedule,” the FHS skipper added. “You have to get lucky because of injuries. And then you have to have a lot of talent.”

Pease and many of Farragut’s 2004 players were big contributors on the 2002 FHS team that lost three close games to Bearden’s eventual unbeaten, untied national championship team.

“We knew our future was looking good when we could hold them and they were national champions at the end of that year,” Pease said. “We knew we were equivalent to them this year, and we thought we could do that.”

JACKSON FACTOR

Culbreth said he tried to lead his boys soccer team with the same general guiding philosophy as one of the most successful coaches in profession sports history.

“I don’t agree with Phil Jackson philosophically, but I think he’s the greatest coach to ever coach in any sport because he’s able to corral all his talent,” Culbreth said of the 9-time NBA champion coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. “I still don’t believe Los Angeles let him go.

“I’ve been able to make these guys feel like a team enough to where they’re willing to lay it on the line for each other,” Culbreth added. “The first year the only team to beat me was the last (local) national champion (Bearden, 25-0-0 in 2002). The boys have really caught into my system of togetherness. It works.”

Culbreth conveyed a final reminder of “togetherness” before the two biggest games of his coaching era.

“Last thing I told them, last year and this year before they played in the state championship (game), ‘this is where you lay it on the line for your friends,’” the coach said. “They were going to have to lay it on the line for each other.

“They wouldn’t let each other down.”

 

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