Story by: Griffin Pritchard | Publisher
OPELIKA – Coach Derek Hovell knew the 2020 pack of Opelika High Bulldogs were destined for great things – 10 seniors on a roster will provide that confidence. Then the world stopped turning and everything was canceled leaving destinies unfulfilled.
Hovell: “We are thankful to be playing. With all the uncertainty and lack of closure with last year’s team, we are thankful for the opportunity to play. We had a strong team last year led by 10 seniors, so we had a lot of holes to fill. We only had four returners with regular playing time; a lot of guys had to step up. I believe we have exceeded our expectations simply because of the unknown challenges we faced throughout the season.”
Greg Meyers (a sophomore), Said Rujana (a junior) and Landon Faison (a senior) led the Bulldogs in scoring. Miller Isaacson (senior Keeper) finished the year with five shutouts as Opelika finished the year 9-4-2 and 6-0 in the area. In the final AHSAA 6A Coaches Soccer Poll, the Bulldogs were No. 11.
The Bulldogs – even with last year’s blip in the season – had a legacy to uphold.
Hovell: “Each year the team makes goals for the season. Amongst the goals this year was winning the area. After winning the area in 2015, 2016 and 2017 we finished second in 2018 and 2019. The guys wanted to get back in form and went undefeated in area play.”
The did so with a vicious streak outscoring their opponents 31-5.
Faison – highlighted by Hovell as the team’s top Dawg – finished his final regular season with seven goals and six assists.
Harold Torres – also highlighted by Hovell – “has been a vocal leader as well as keeping up the positivity and encouragement.
The playoffs are next on the agenda for the Bulldogs as they earned a first-round bye and will meet the winner of Robertsdale and No. 6 St. Paul’s.
Hovell: “Due to man of the Montgomery/Area 3 teams opting out, we have a first round bye. This bye has new challenges because of the lack of hosting a first-round game. We will be traveling in the second round without playing a playoff game. Reaching the second round is a nice accomplishment but will not be an easy road to travel moving forward. We have many tough teams in the South (bracket); Area 1 and Area 2, including the No.4 and No. 5 ranked teams in our path of second and third-round games. So, making it to the Final Four State Tournament will not be an easy task. We are set up for the challenge and believe that we can compete with any team on a given night.”
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