21Bryan Pagan Grays Creek soccer 22C.J. Eley Grays Creek soccer The Gray’s Creek boys soccer team is coming off a 21-win season and a trip to the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs.

Coach Bryan Pagan said the Bears lost a lot of experience from last season’s team, but they return a lot of the offense from that squad, which bolsters his hopes of having another strong run in 2018.

“I thought depth was going to be an issue, but we had a couple of transfers come in and (moved) some guys up from the jayvees,’’ he said.

 Last year’s team was built around strength and athleticism. This year, Pagan feels his squad’s soccer IQ is higher and its decision-making ability is improved. “Last year, we were able to overpower teams,’’ he said. “This year, we will continue to press teams and make them make mistakes.’’

The defense will be rebuilt with a new goalkeeper and a new back line. “The more comfortable they get receiving the ball, the better they’ll get,’’ Pagan said. “We’re only scratching the surface.’’

Among the top players returning for the Bears is sophomore C.J. Eley.

Eley scored 14 goals and handed out five assists. He said he feels more comfortable with experience this season. Joining the team as a freshman last season and being thrust into new surroundings was a challenge.

He’s focused more on the mental aspect of finishing possessions of the ball. “Last year our chemistry was good and we got along,’’ Eley said. “We’re going to have to be on the same page like we were last year.”

Pine Forest was the top 4-A team in the Patriot Conference last year and finished second in the regular season to the Bears.

Coach Isaac Rancour hopes the

Trojans can again compete for the con-
ference title and make the state playoffs.

“I’m excited to see how much our team grows from beginning to end,’’ he said. “We’re getting all the pieces in place. Finding a way to put the ball in the back of the net is one of the big things.’’

Connor Sykes is returning for his fourth year and will anchor the Trojan defense. “I expect him to organize the field,’’ Rancour said. “He’s done a great job in preseason with leadership roles. I except him to continue ... leading on and off the field.’’

Sykes said the Trojans have set a goal of not only making the state playoffs but ending the frustration of consistently losing in the first round.

He’s not worried about any personal glory. “Personal recognition is great, but I’d rather have a conference championship as a team,’’ he said. “Being part of this team is the only goal I’ve set for myself.’’

Photos L to R: Coach Bryan Pagan, C.J. Eley

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