Originally created 05/15/04

Richmond displays the agony of victory

There are two sides to every tie, but rarely are they such polar opposites.

Grayson enthusiastically celebrated its share of the Georgia Class AAA boys soccer championship on friday night.

Richmond Academy sullenly mourned its share of the its first state title.

"We need to be as happy as they are," said Richmond Academy's bloodied defender William Batson after the 1-1 decision. "We're acting like we're spoiled."

In a way they are. The Musketeers came into Friday night's state championship undefeated and sporting the No. 1 ranking in the only national prep poll. They left still undefeated and state champions but clearly bruised by the unsatisfactory resolution to a special season.

"We came in here thinking we were going to win the state championship, but co-champions isn't what we expected," said junior Markus Jackson.

While Grayson's players and rowdy roadies wildly cheered the championship, Richmond Academy faithful moaned in ARC Stadium. When Georgia High School Association executive director Ralph Swearngin presented the trophy to both teams, the Musketeers fans booed and chanted for a shootout.

"It feels definitely like a loss ... but oh well," said junior midfielder Cline Beam. "We're still state champs."

Richmond Academy coach Chris Hughes had to prod his team over to collect the trophy, and Batson was the only player to step up and hold it. Most of the players stared at the state championship T-shirts they were handed as if they were failing report cards.

"I know that this is not the way you wanted it, but you're still undefeated state champions," Hughes told his team. "Deal with it!"

It seemed just too tough for this team to deal with in the immediate aftermath. The Musketeers were clearly the better team on the field. They controlled most

of the game and had most of the chances.

After dominating most of the first half, ARC had a 1-0 lead to show for it when Batson's low shot from high outside the box squirted by a diving Grayson goalie Walt Mason into the left corner of the net at the 28:29 mark.

The home crowd celebrated as though that were the end of it. Most games, it would be.

This time it wasn't. Just 2:10 into the second half, Grayson converted a corner kick when long and lanky defender Peter Ayoade rose above everyone and headed a shot that somehow slipped through the hands of ARC goalie Peter Menk to tie it.

Menk, who hadn't allowed a single live-action goal all season to that point, had nothing to say about it afterward except a few profanities. The hand he rudely stuck out in reporter's faces proved more effective this night at deflecting questions.

Apparently it's very tough to learn how to lose graciously - or even not lose - when all you're used to is winning.

"They shouldn't be devastated," said Hughes.

They shouldn't at all. Surely there are metropolitan soccer aficionados from around Atlanta who will sniff at this as some kind of third-class state championship, but they would be wrong. The Atlanta-area schools who think they own the red-clay pitches of the Peach State had to think again this year.

For the record, Richmond Academy became the first Augusta-area team to ever win a GHSA state soccer title.

That Atlanta attitude is what the Musketeers so desperately wanted to stifle with an outright win and undefeated 25-0 record that would have brought a mythical national championship as well. The National Soccer Coaches Association of America has never wavered from its initial assertion that the Musketeers were the best in the country.

Before Friday, Richmond Academy never gave it any reason for doubt. The Musketeers didn't just beat all comers - they usually dominated them. You don't average nearly 10 goals per game and get challenged too often.

While national rankings are bestowed, championships have to be earned. And Richmond Academy had its feet full earning it against a gritty Grayson team that wasn't rolling over to anyone.

"It's not like what we wanted, but it's hard not accept," said Batson. "We worked so hard we wanted to get something out of it. They did too."

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com


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