ACA soccer reaches new heights with trip to state semis
By Graham Dunn
Alabama Christian Academy senior Drew Schlemmer had few expectations when he decided to join the school’s soccer team this season. It was a first for one of ACA’s top football players.
He’d spent the last few years doing what he could to help the Eagles football team improve but to little avail. Soccer wasn’t in his vocabulary.
He was talked into trying soccer just to have a little fun in his final months of high school.
“I never thought I would be doing this,” he admitted as he glanced across Norton Field to see his former teammates sweating it out during spring football practice.
He picked a good time to try a new sport.
The ACA soccer season has been full of surprises this year, including an undefeated season at 22-0 and its first trip to the AHSAA Class 4A-5A State finals in Huntsville.
The Eagles will face Helena in the semis on Thursday.
“When I was hired here, I was asked to change the face of soccer,” said first-year coach Diego de Silva. “The character and attitude was not where it needed to be. That was how I measured how well I did here… not winning. We love winning in Brazil (his native country) but you can’t measure this program by wins. But I believe we have made a change in attitude here and it has shown.”
Much of the success has been credited to Jerome “J.J.” Williams, who leads the team with an incredible 65 goals this season. Unfortunately for the Eagles, he will not be available Thursday due to receiving his second red card of the season in last week’s quarterfinal win over St. Paul’s.
“We have won without him before,” de Silva said. “He had to travel to Costa Rica to play with the Olympic team and we beat St. James… we know this hasn’t been a one-man team. He is ashamed it happened but he will still be there for his team (Thursday).
“This team has fought through adversity. There have been games where it looked hopeless – losing players, exhaustion… but the last game we proved we can come out and do what is needed.”
Proof came in last week’s when after Williams had been ejected. The Eagles were tied in the second overtime when Alden Straud kicked the game winner with 10 seconds left.
“The challenge was to bring everybody to the point that they knew they could win without relying on (Williams),” de Silva said. “This team has come a long way.”
While Williams gets plenty of pub, the new coach (and assistant Gabriel Queiroz) has brought a new attitude to the program. He is still a player for Faulkner and travels with semi-pro teams during the summer.
“In past years the coaches seemed good with moral support,” stated senior Will Shumaker. “I was thinking we would get a guy who is not into strategy but this has been a complete surprise. (At the beginning) practices were much more structured. When they talked, you wanted to listen. They grabbed your attention. We could tell from the very first game we played it was going to be different.”
State titles at ACA are usually reserved for baseball or softball. But the talk of another sport this week has the seniors excited.
“Soccer doesn’t get a lot of talk around school but there has been a lot of it this week,” Shumaker said. “A lot of people turned out for the game last weekend (vs St. Paul’s) and a lot say they will go to Huntsville. The support has been great.”