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State champs

Brains, guts, selflessness — all held together by a special camaraderie through strong religious faith.

A valedictorian who’s All-state, a national-level talent battling through pain to lead the offense and an “All-state” back-up who never plays — and never complains.

Add talent across the board and it’s no wonder Christian Academy of Knoxville captured its fifth straight Class A/AA boys soccer state crown. No. 5 came following a 2-1 win against Hume-Fogg Saturday, May 26, in Murfreesboro.

Tom Gerlach, CAK head coach, said he told his players, “‘today you are able to set a legacy unknown to Tennessee by wining five.

“When you have a cohesive unit you play well together, and that leads to wins,” Gerlach added, as the Warriors finish 2007 with an 18-5-2 record.

“I’ve had players go from C-A-K and choose not to play soccer beyond here because you can’t duplicate the kind of brotherhood that there is here, actually. It’s not about the victories, it’s the brotherhood these guys have for each other. It’s just incredible.

“The difference is the focus, the boys concentrated on the name on the front of their shirts instead of the names that are on the back.”

Standout junior forward Brandon Tarr, who left CAK last season to join a 16-U national team in Florida as a starting forward, fueled the Warrior offense to the tune of scoring all five CAK goals in three state tournament games.

Doing so despite a bruised heel the junior making it hard for him to run. “And every game I tweak it more,” he said.

Tarr is also recovering from a mid-season concussion.

Answering Hume-Fogg’s goal to go up 1-0 in the 19th minute — the only goal allowed by CAK during state — Tarr scored less than three minutes later.

“First of all it was a great ball by Phillip Chesney, he just put right behind a defender,” Tarr said of his goal from 25 yards out. “Luckily I got there just before the keeper did and I took a touch over him.”

Tarr put the Warriors ahead for good with 35:12 left in the second half, maneuvering the ball through defenders in the box before planting a 12-yard goal into the net.

Calling Tarr’s second goal “just gorgeous,” Gerlach said his junior standout “is one of the best soccer players I’ve ever seen little alone worked with. Scoring five goals in the state tournament is just fantastic.”

About CAK’s continuing streak, “Five is just crazy, unheard of,” Tarr said.

Opening the state tourney at Richard Siegel Park with a 1-0 win against Christ Presbyterian Academy May 23, the Warriors whipped Chattanooga Christian 2-0 Thursday, May 24, in the semifinals.

With a short bench and few substitutions, Gerlach said, “We train for the eleven to play eighty [minutes].”

However, the CAK skipper said he wondered if Hume-Fogg was used to playing on a field “this wide, this is like our home field dimensions. We’re used to that.”

Three losses to Knoxville Catholic — including both the district and region tourney crowns — “got us back on track,” Gerlach said. “We had a big speech,” where Gerlach said he reminded his Warriors they were acting “’scared to lose, not wanting to win. You’ve got to stop that.’”

Tom Burnett, senior center midfielder said, “I honestly think the losses helped us get more focused for this tournament.”

Gerlach said back-up goalkeeper, senior Brent Davidson “is the guy in the shadows, he’s the back-up All-state goalkeeper. This had been an especially hard year for him because he’s had to ride in the shadow of Drew Gorman. And Brent would start on any other team in this state.

“But instead of getting bitter, or just getting angry, he’s sitting on the sidelines praying for his brother [Gorman]. They’re prayer partners, they room together.”

The coach said senior Brandon Criswell is “a guy who’s had a bad run of luck” beginning with almost losing a leg in a childhood accident. “And then he had a broken hand his freshman year, then he had a stress fracture on his right leg, and then he had a stress fracture on his left leg,” Gerlach added.

Andrew Holt, senior outside fullback and three-year starter, said the Warriors’ fifth straight crown “hasn’t even hit me yet.”

Drew Gorman, CAK Class of 2007 valedictorian and All-state goalkeeper, celebrates his third state crown, having joined the program as a sophomore transfer. “I think a lot of teams have talent, but one thing about us is just team unity … we play for God. We have one common goal: instead of winning the state championship, it’s to give glory to God.”

Jackson Slagle, senior sweeper and a three-year starter, said Gorman “played an awesome tournament. Doug Liedle and Teddy Holt on the outside both played awesome.

“But we just want to give the glory to God, honestly,” Slagle added.

David Pifer, a senior forward/midfielder who transferred from Martin, joins his father, Nathan Pifer, who coached the CAK girls to a state crown last fall. “C-A-K soccer was definitely one big thing I was looking forward to,” David said. “I wanted to win a state title, and thank the Lord we were able to come out today and do that.” Pifer’s younger brother, Christopher, a sophomore, make three state title rings owned by the Pifers

As for team unity, “We take a trip to Florida every spring break and spend about a week together,” Slagle said about an annual trip begun in 2003 before CAK won its first state crown. “We call ourselves a brotherhood a lot. We’ll get together for team meetings and just pray and stuff. Definitely a very tight-knit group.

“Definitely the closest team I’ve ever been on.”

Under the them of “Light and Truth” as printed on t-shirts worn by several CAK players and coaches, “A lot of these guys are going with me to Brazil this do a mission trip this summer, and that’s our theme,” Gerlach said of a week-long trip combining 30 members of both the CAK boys and girls soccer teams.

Unity reigns for the state champions.


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