The difference that a year can make has never been more evident for the Bradley Central boys soccer team than it has this season.
In 2013, the Bears were hard-pressed to come up with a total of six wins, while this year Bradley (8-4-3, 2-4) got the season started off with six-straight victories.
Having a more mature team has been one of the greatest factors in the Bear’s improved season, but perhaps their not-so-secret weapon has been the consistently impressive performances that senior goalkeeper Joey White has put up all season.
“I will take guys like Joey on my team every day. He puts in the time outside of practice, and was one of those guys who was out here every day working. His attitude and work ethic are amazing,” Bradley head coach Tucker Blackmon stated. “When we got Joey his freshman year, he was always very gifted with his hands and quickness. He’s put in so much time developing his feet. This year I think he was just as valuable to this team as captains that I’ve had in the past. He is easily in the top three best players that I’ve ever had during my seven or eight years here.”
Last year the Bears averaged 1.2 goals per game and had an average of 2.5 goals allowed. This year, those numbers have swapped places, with Bradley averaging 2.5 goals per game and only allowing an average of 1.2 goals.
In their 15 games played in the regular season, White has never given up more than two goals in a match, and the Bears’ worst match was a 2-0 loss to East Hamilton.
“It feels good to finally in my senior year have something good happen, especially coming off of last year,” White commented. “We just kept coming out and practicing. This summer we were practicing right when summer started, and then when the dead season ended, picked it right back up.”
White has been a keeper much of his own making and only began playing soccer in eighth grade. Many soccer players develop their skills playing select, but White has only one season of select ball under his belt.
“I played select at Cleveland Futbol Club for one season in my junior year. The cost was the reason I didn’t play this year. I got a job at Zaxby’s in the fall instead of playing select,” White explained.
The hard work put in by the keeper has not gone unnoticed, and in January, White signed with West Virginia University Institute of Technology, whose men’s soccer team won the 2013 USCAA National Championship.
“My stats and awards from last year probably helped them decide to sign me,” White said. “I feel like my kicking is better than most high school kids. I’m also pretty quick with my hands, getting down and stuff.”
Coach Blackmon knows that in signing White, the WVU Golden Bears are getting a ‘stud’ of a player.
“I think that coach is getting a steal. He had two assists from goal this season. When he sends a ‘through ball’ it is perfectly placed, and that is so valuable,” Blackmon declared. “For the past two years he’s been ‘The guy.’ Even as a junior he was out there leading the team. Joey is a good leader and I know he’s going to do what I ask. He inspires others out there to do better.”
According to the coach, White has been averaging about 11.4 saves per game.
“I’m going to miss him and the team is going to realize how much they miss him in goal next year,” Blackmon admitted.
With the District 5-AAA soccer tournament beginning on Saturday, the fifth-seeded Bradley Central Bears and their star keeper will once again be under fire when they take on East Hamilton at 11 a.m. in Collegedale.
“I guess I just don’t think about it as being such a big deal. I try to stay calm, keep my head in the game and remember everything I’m supposed to do,” White remarked.
For Coach Blackmon, the rematch with the Hurricanes is one to be excited about.
“I like that matchup. I think East Hamilton is a good team, and I think talent-wise we line up with them very well. If we come out and play our game we could take it. We played hideous against them last time, so we’ll see how it goes this time,” Blackmon commented.
“Yeah, we are the 5 seed, but we are one of the only team that didn’t get blown out in any games this season. If we go on and win some of these playoff games, I think other teams will take notice.”