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Pinckneyville Middle and Other Schools See their Soccer Season Fade Away



The Pinckneyville Middle School Soccer Girl’s team fight for the ball during an intense practice.

The field had never looked greener for the bright-faced squads of Pinckneyville Middle School Soccer at the 2019-2020 school year’s start, but Gwinnett County Public School (GCPS) closures amidst the Coronavirus pandemic have left parents and students wondering if their season will reconvene.

According to Pinckneyville Middle School Soccer Coach Sara Sanders, Pinckneyville Middle School tryouts commenced in mid-October in preparation for the Middle School Soccer tournament that normally takes place in March, but it has since been postponed.

Pinckneyville Middle School Soccer functions as a popular club sport, with one Boys and one Girls team spanning grades sixth through eighth. Because of the classification as a club instead of an official Middle School sport, Sanders and her team must work creatively to equip their players with everything they need.

Each year Sanders contacts other coaches to get Pinckneyville Middle School Soccer uniforms made, though this does mean that each child keeps their uniform at the end of the season. From scheduling to transportation and everything in between, no small detail can be overlooked. Sanders credits Sonia Lee, Sandra Goring and Gene Rouille with keeping her sane and on track.

Pinckneyville MS Soccer Club background

The soccer club at Pinckneyville Middle School kicked off five years ago with Sanders at the helm, starting with eighth-grade boys then expanding to all grades, eventually adding a Girls team as interest grew.

Typically, both teams have set separate practices, but they often practice together as well. This gives players the chance to hone their skills and interact with fellow students who they might not otherwise have the chance to. Both teams are currently in the top five teams of their respective leagues, with the girls ranked first and the boys ranked third.

Sanders has had the opportunity to watch former Pinckneyville Middle School Soccer players go on to play as Norcross High School seniors, bringing everything full circle. In order to further that legacy, Sanders has made efforts to keep the players in-game shape should the season pick up again soon.

“We have been doing virtual practices to stay sharp. I send the kids two practice sessions that they complete during the week and then record myself the other three days of the week for them to practice simple foot skills and moves to help keep them technically and tactically sound,” said Sanders.

She added that though parents and students are disappointed with the interruption in their season, the soccer club tries to stay positive through this difficult time. Pinckneyville Middle School soccer falls under the jurisdiction of GCPS and must abide by all extracurricular protocols handed down by Gwinnett County.

In the soccer community, the new suggested end-of-game procedure asks for touching of elbows or fist bumps instead of the customary handshake. It is unclear if more rules will change in response to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Pinckneyville Middle School Soccer anticipates reinstatement by GCPS along with all other extracurriculars on hold. Other school soccer programs in Gwinnett County face similar questions and challenges.

Cornerstone Christian Academy

Cornerstone Christian Academy and Wesleyan School face off earlier in the school year in a flurry of grass and dirt.

The nearby Cornerstone Christian Academy has faced similar challenges and setbacks, but the staff continues to celebrate past successes and remains hopeful for the future.       

Cornerstone Athletic Director Chuck Faust had much to say in support of the growing soccer program. “The soccer program has come a long way in the last five years. We have quite a few soccer players who play on elite teams outside of our school, but the sense of camaraderie that our community provides has the players desiring to play at Cornerstone as well,” he said.

Austin McDonald heads up the boy’s program, while Chip Marsten and Helen West lead the girl’s program. According to Faust, the school itself has grown at a quick pace, and therefore the talent pool for soccer and other sports has expanded. The sportsman-like atmosphere provided to Cornerstone Cougars helps to foster school pride, and sport successes seem to also boost admissions for parents searching for strong sports programs to augment their students’ private school education.

“The players have a sense of pride when they compete for the school. We love feeling like an underdog when competing against the big schools. This passion is contagious for the parents and fans on the sideline,” said Coach McDonald.

Regarding the benefits of the Girls program, Coach West had this to say. “Cornerstone soccer is a place where our girls can have fun, play with their friends and represent our school. For many of our players, the team is less stressful than their club programs. This brings a different kind of joy to their game,” she said.

The soccer season had already kicked off for Cornerstone Christian Academy as well when the schools shut down in response to Coronavirus. Both boys and girls teams had already played about four matches, with the boys undefeated as well as achieving some big wins against large school rivals.

Play has been suspended along with school closure, but the season has not yet officially been postponed, according to Faust. Like many other schools in Gwinnett County and beyond, Cornerstone Christian Academy is monitoring how the current health situation develops and will utilize all information available to plan any protocols that may protect student athletes going forward.

Greater Atlanta Christian School

Some highly competitive schools, such as Greater Atlanta Christian School (GAC), have a significant number of student athletes in many sports eager to play once it is deemed safe.        Greater Atlanta Christian School, a private school located in Norcross, fills its rosters with student soccer athletes from sixth grade to high school level. Their trophy case looks rather full, with five state championships and 15 regional championships, among other accolades.

Thom Jacquet has served as Varsity Soccer Head Coach at Greater Atlanta Christian School for 29 years, with two sons and a daughter that have worn GAC Spartan Soccer jerseys at one time or another. “We have had a very positive start to our season and would very much like to continue. Saying that, obviously we are mindful of the much bigger picture going on in the world and we fully stand by the decisions of our school and others in the decision-making process,” he said.

When asked about how the current health crisis might influence the future of the game, Jacquet remarked that “the world will be in a different place when we are done, and some additional safeguards may be put in place either by us or mandated by health officials. Everything we do will be under review as we pick things back up.”

Wesleyan School

Wesleyan Soccer player takes her shot in an early-season game.

Similarly, Wesleyan School’s varsity teams were roughly halfway through their season when the school suspended play due to the Coronavirus. The varsity boys had played eight games before suspension was called prior to Wesleyan’s spring break.

Wesleyan CFO and Head Coach of Varsity Boys Soccer Billy Coxhead had much to say about the success of Wesleyan Soccer and its access to student participation. In the past six years, the varsity boys soccer team has been state champion twice and a state runner-up once, among other achievements. But despite its competitive nature, Wesleyan Soccer accepts the majority of students that tryout.

“At Wesleyan, most players can find a place to play on one of our teams. However, we play public schools every year before we play our Region schedule. Our varsity teams are competitive with the public schools even though we do not have the depth of players that public schools have,” said Coxhead.

This ability to allow as many students to play as possible allows coaches to have yet another outlet to instill “life lessons more than remembering win-lose records”, according to Coxhead.

“Soccer is vital to our school because we believe that athletics further the overall mission of Wesleyan,” said Assistant Coach of Varsity Girls Soccer, Glen Archer.

But of course, the more names on the rosters simply means more kids waiting to see when they can return to the field.

The student athletes at Pinckneyville Middle School, Cornerstone Christian Academy, Greater Atlanta Christian School and Wesleyan School come from diverse backgrounds across the Gwinnet County community, but they all share a love for the game of soccer. It remains to be seen if these schools will finish their seasons, but of course the health and safety of the players proves top priority.

Kelsey Asher is a proud graduate of the University of West Georgia with a Bachelor’s in Communications. She has held a variety of marketing leadership roles for several small, startup companies in a variety of industries including publishing, construction and technology.

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School Sports

GAC Announces New Head Volleyball Coach



Crystal Lee

The Greater Atlanta Christian School (GAC) Athletic Department has announced that Crystal Lee will take the helm as the new Head Volleyball Coach at GAC.

“I am excited to announce that we have selected Crystal Lee as our new Head Volleyball Coach,” said GAC Athletic Director Tim Hardy. “Crystal Lee embodies the characteristics we want in a head coach at GAC. First, she has a strong Christian faith that guides her daily life.

“Second, she has a natural ability to connect with student-athletes and foster trust through relationships. Third, she loves Volleyball and has a passion for using the game to develop her athletes as people, as well as players. Finally, she has a clear vision for the future of Spartan Volleyball.”

Crystal Lee
Crystal Lee

Coach Lee was a GAC Varsity Assistant Coach during the 2022 season and played an instrumental role for the Spartans’ state championship team. She previously coached at Johns Creek High School from 2019-2021, and she coached club Volleyball at 575 Volleyball and A5 South as well. Coach Lee also played collegiate Volleyball at Georgia State University from 2015-2018.

“I am honored and privileged to serve as the head coach of this program, and I look forward to inspiring and developing these young women not only as exceptional athletes but also as outstanding members of the community. It is my prayer that these young women will be guided into successful lives after GAC, regardless of whether or not they pursue athletics,” Coach Lee said.

“As an assistant last year, I witnessed the program’s success, but I was most inspired by the guiding principles that embody GAC’s mission. The rich tradition of academic, spiritual, and athletic excellence of GAC is a place that I am honored to be a part of, and I’m humbled to take on this role,” she added.

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School Sports

Wesleyan’s Druw Jones ’22 Drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks



Druw Jones

Wesleyan School graduate Druw Jones ’22 was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks as the second overall selection in last night’s Major League Baseball draft.

A Wesleyan evergreen who attended Wesleyan from kindergarten through twelfth grade, Jones completed his high school baseball career alongside his teammates and coaches when the team won the state championship in May of this year. This summer, Jones was named the Gatorade Georgia Baseball Player of the Year, and he is a two-time Gwinnett Daily Post high school baseball player of the year. Jones currently holds Wesleyan School records for career and single season batting average, as well as most hits.“Coaching Druw in high school has been a delight,” said Brian Krehmeyer, Wesleyan’s varsity baseball coach. “Not only is he an incredibly gifted player, but he is also a great teammate. I could not be more thrilled for Druw and his family.”

In his senior season, Jones finished the season with a .570 batting average, 13 homeruns, 72 runs, and 32 stolen bases.

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School Sports

A Look Back on the Year in Athletics at Norcross High



Instagram posts from @ norcross.soccer
Lea Smith and Cameron Chapman from Instagram posts @norcross.soccer

The Norcross High boys’ and girls’ basketball teams capped off another memorable year for Blue Devils athletics by winning state championships in March. The two programs have 10 state titles between them, all coming within the last 20 years, and this season was the third time both teams have won the title in the same season.

Boys’ coach Jesse McMillan and girls’ coach Ashley Clanton both said their teams came into the season with talent but not much experience. Both coaches watched their teams grow up quickly as they faced early tests in the first half of the season before hitting their peak in early February.

The boys’ team won 11 of their last 12 games to close out the season, finishing with a 26-6 overall record and a 10-2 mark in Region 7-7A. The Blue Devils won the title game 58-45 against division rival Berkmar, a team that had beaten Norcross three times during the regular season.

The Blue Devils were led by junior guard London Johnson, who is ranked by 247 Sports as the 27th best prospect for the 2023 recruiting class and is the third-ranked player in the state. According to 247, Johnson has offers from 18 Division I schools, including Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, North Carolina, Southern California, Arizona State, Cincinnati, Auburn and Georgetown.

He averaged 18.7 points per game along with 3.3 assists and 1.8 steals. On the inside, Jerry Deng helped lead the Blue Devils with 14.7 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game. Deng is a three-star recruiting prospect, according to 247, and has offers from Georgia State, Mercer, Georgia, East Carolina and Akron.

With a menacing defense, the girls’ team finished unblemished in region play at 13-0 in Region 7-7A and 26-5 overall as they went on to defeat Harrison High of Kennesaw, Ga., 41-37 in the championship game. The Lady Blue Devils held their opponents to under 30 points nine times and gave up an average of 39.3 points per game throughout the season.

Senior forward Zaria Hurston propelled the Lady Blue Devils, averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds per game. She was named the 2022 Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year by the Gwinnett Daily Post.

More sports success at NHS

The Norcross football team finished 8-4 in 2021 after going 13-1 and making the state semifinals in 2020. The Blue Devils made noise with a near upset of Lowndes, losing 35-34 in a thriller in the second round of the state playoffs. Standout junior receiver Nakai Poole averaged 58.6 receiving yards per game and hauled in 11 touchdown catches on the season. He has not earned a star ranking yet, according to 247 sports, but has early offers from 23 Division I programs, including LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Cincinnati, Virginia Tech and Virginia.

The girls’ volleyball team won its fourth consecutive region title in Georgia’s highest classification, earning a perfect 6-0 mark in Region 7-7A. The Lady Blue Devils came on strong in the second half of the season after an 8-15 start that included a six-game losing streak. But starting with a 2-1 win over Chamblee High on Sept. 9, the Lady Blue Devils reeled off 11 straight victories and defeated Dunwoody 3-0 in the region title game before falling to Roswell High in the first round of the state tournament.

The girls’ soccer team also had a successful season, tallying a 13-5-1 record and finishing second in Region 7-7A at 9-3. The Lady Blue Devils won seven of their last nine games and earned a first-round playoff win over Milton before losing 3-2 to North Paulding in the second round. Cameron Chapman led the way with 23 goals and eight assists on the season, while goalkeeper Leah Smith made 81 saves.

The girls’ and boys’ tennis teams both made the state tournament, with the girls falling in the first round, while the boys made a run to the state quarterfinals before losing to North Gwinnett.

Featured in our June/July issue of Peachtree Corners Magazine

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