About nine years ago, David and Laura DeFatta established a co-ed soccer program at the newly founded Grace Christian Academy near Leiper’s Fork. They had four girls and four guys that first season.
On Wednesday, the husband and wife shared a moment on the field at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex and were joined by their two young girls after David’s GCA boys advanced to the school’s first state championship. The Lions defeated Signal Mountain 2-1 and will play for the Class A state championship Friday at 1:30 p.m. agains Gatlinburg-Pittman.
“To realize where we're at today and what we're playing for is amazing and for us it's a complete testament to God's goodness and faithfulness and how he treats us, how he loves us and how he's brought each and every one of these guys here from literally all over the world and all different circumstances and place them at our little tiny school in Leiper’s Fork," DeFatta said. “We're about to do something really special.”
Motivation wasn’t hard to come by Wednesday.
The Lions fell 1-0 in the state semifinals against Signal Mountain last year. Also, for weeks, the entire team knew by reaching the state final, teammate Carson Anderson would have enough time to heal from a broken ankle to suit up and play in the championship match. The sophomore finished his last chemotherapy session this week.
Anderson called his wager with DeFatta to make an appearance in the championship match “a small victory,” but his teammates took it much more serious.
“It’s everything,” GCA freshman Alex Johnson said. “I mean he was running through my mind, he was running through all of our all of our minds this whole game.
“In the second half, we just wanted to finish it for him.”
“It's just awesome,” GCA’s Sam Barrionuevo added. “(DeFatta) promised us if we made it to the finals that he'd play. So we're going to see him in the finals out there and it’s going to be amazing to see.”
Barrionuevo busted through the back line and blasted the match’s first goal less than three minutes into the semifinal to set the tone against the Eagles. GCA entered having scored at least eight goals in six straight matches, but had to buckle down late.
MURFREESBORO – The high-scoring Grace Christian Academy soccer team – led by eighth graders …
“This was a joy to play in,” the sophomore Barrionuevo said. “We lost to this team last year so we were out for revenge, too. We knew what they brought to the table and they knew what we brought to the table.
“We just told ourselves that we are going to come out with all we got as a team and we are going to give it all.”
The freshman Johnson slipped a second goal past Signal Mountain keeper Joseph Galea in the 27th on a bouncing cross from Levi Jones for the 2-0 advantage. It stayed there until early in the second 40 minutes.
Aaron Easterly struck just 67 seconds into the second half, scoring on a corner kick to lift the Eagles within 2-1. Galea, Signal Mountain’s keeper, became a wall the rest of the way with help from his defense.
GCA opened with a 13-3 shot advantage in the first half, but Signal Mountain owned a 10-8 edge in the second 40 minutes, while Galea stacked up acrobatic saves. He stopped eight shots before being pulled in the final two minutes in an Eagles effort to insert another attacker.
“Luckily, we got the two goals in the first half, because while we created a lot of opportunities in the second half, I mean, he just kept us out of the net,” DeFatta said. “(Galea) did a phenomenal job.”
Barrionuevo led the charge much of the night. He finished with eight shots, including five on goal. The sophomore was stopped twice in the final minutes of the first half by Galea and had two other looks in the second half get denied.
“I don't know how many shots I had I thought were going in that he got,” Barrionuevo said. “That man is fantastic.”
GCA keeper Kytn Wolf quickly recovered in goal after the early score in the second half. The sophomore matched Galea with eight saves and also came away with several big saves. He shut down one of the last threats by the Eagles in the 75th with a leaping grab following a short corner and a Jarren Radden header attempt. Wolf collected six saves in the second half.
In the 55th, Levi Jones had a goal wiped away after an offsides call. Shewit Worton added a late look in the 77th after dribbling into the teeth of the defense, faking one shot and delivering another after shedding a defender. The attempt sailed just wide of the right post.
Worton provided possession after possession quarterbacking the Lions offense. He finished with four shots. Brothers Levi and Malachi Jones each had two shots on goal.
Every Thursday morning at 6:30 a.m. the Grace Christian Academy boys’ soccer team gathers fo…
After the GCA celebration calmed and the entire team, friends and family were all soaking in the moment, Anderson was reminded of how DeFatta became emotional talking to the media just over four weeks ago. Budding rival Christ Presbyterian Academy had just established the Carson Anderson Lion Heart Award, a tribute to Anderson to be shared between the two schools. The honor will be given to a new student each season who has overcome hardship and maintained the heart of a lion – similar to how Anderson has fought and stayed committed to his team ever since his Ewing Sarcoma diagnosis this fall.
The youngster said making the championship is an amazing feeling.
“(Coach DeFatta) and I have a really close relationship and bond and so to be able to get to that game Friday is huge for him. To be able to see me play one last time for this season and I'll get to play for him one last time this season as well,” Anderson said. “It's all full circle and really, really heartfelt and emotional.”
GCA faces Gatlinburg-Pittman, the defending champions, at 1:30 p.m at the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex main stadium. The two teams battled to a 2-2 draw on April 27 at GCA. The Highlanders held off Chattanooga School for he Arts and Sciences in the other semifinal Wednesday.