There are few positions in sports more pressure-packed than a goalkeeper in soccer.
One solitary figure has to stand in front of a large 8 yards x 8 feet net and try to keep the ball out of it.
Fortunately, pressure doesn’t get to Tennessee High sophomore Eli Knowles.
“Honestly, Knowles is the type of guy you want in net because he is one that doesn’t crack under pressure. If he makes a mistake and ball goes in, that doesn’t completely demoralize him to where he lets the next 20 go in,” Tennessee High boys soccer coach Andrew Snyder said. “He brushes it off, gets right back up there.
“You look at the games we have had where we have been in those tough back and forth goal, goal, goal games and Knowles picks himself up, he doesn’t let that beat him.”
All eyes will be on Knowles and his opposing goalkeeper today when the Vikings (11-7-1) travel to play Austin-East (12-7) in a Class AA sub-state contest in Knoxville at 5:30 p.m.
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The winner advances to Murfreesboro for the Class AA state tournament beginning Tuesday at Siegel Soccer Park, while the loser calls it a season.
While Austin-East defeated Knox Halls 4-1 on Thursday to advance to this point, the Vikings dropped a 5-0 Region 1-2A decision at perennial soccer powerhouse Greeneville.
“They are a great team, a great program, Jerry Graham, the head coach there, has just done a phenomenal job. They have got a lot of playing experience and their guys have been playing together since fifth grade, most of his players is what he told me,” Snyder said. “It is tough to beat them when you have got all that experience and all that chemistry, but we played well.
“We put up a good fight. I know the scoreboard doesn’t always tell the whole picture and last night it definitely didn’t because we played a really well-fought game, depth just got the better of us.”
While some online references have Austin East ranked as the top team in the state, Snyder sees a lot of similarities between the two squads, from points scored and allowed to matchups against Class AAA squads.
“Honestly, I think it is going to be a pretty evenly matched game,” said Snyder, who has already shared his message to his team. “We are going to have to fight in the trenches, whichever team is going to show up and fight the hardest is going to be the one that makes it to the state.
“I think it can be us, I think we have been challenged a little bit more in terms of the teams that we have faced and the adversity we have overcome, but I think it is going to be a really good game honestly.”
Eight seniors lead Tennessee High, which is paced in scoring by Micah Hyskell, while Matthew Cardoso is equally adept at scoring and leads the team in assists. Austin DeGeare, freshman Ryan Fish and Hyskell provided a solid forward line, while the midfielders include sophomore James Bolling and freshman Noah Broglio.
All will be trying to keep the ball away from Knowles and the Austin-East net.
“Our back four is really there to support him 100 percent. Anytime I have got a goalkeeper I tell them that ball has got to go through 10 other guys before it gets to you so it is not your fault,” Snyder said. “It is a team effort, there are 11 guys on the field, it has got to go to all 11 before it gets in the back of that net.
“This team, it is something special, they come together when there is mistake, they pick each other up, brush it off and they get back up there and start fighting. They don’t give up.”
According to the TSSAA website, Tennessee High has never advanced to the state tournament in boys soccer. That could change in a matter of 80 minutes on the pitch.
“We have made adjustments to teams in the past and sometimes it has worked and sometimes it hasn’t, but for this game we are going to make the other team make adjustments to us,” Snyder said. “We are going to fight hard, it is really going to come down to which team has the most grit and I really trust our seniors to set the example and the rest of the guys to follow.
“Just saying, ‘Hey, this could be the last 80 minutes are seniors ever play’ so let’s get out there and play for them and let’s have 80 more on Tuesday.”
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