It wasn’t easy for the Georgia Gwinnett men’s soccer team on Saturday evening, but a pair of first half goals would be all the Grizzlies would need as the team claimed a second consecutive A.I.I. championship with a 2-1 victory over Houston-Victoria on the campus of Ashford.
“It’s always difficult to defend a championship,” GGC Head Coach Steve DeCou said. “Winning a title last year in our first season was pretty memorable, but coming up to Ashford and repeating feels pretty special.”
The crown marks yet another accomplishment for the third-year program, as the 12th-ranked Grizzlies will automatically advance to next week’s NAIA Championship tournament with a 12-2-2 overall record. The event will begin with the opening round on Nov. 22, which will be played on home sites, before the remaining 16 teams advance to the final rounds, which will take place in Delray Beach, Fla., from Dec. 1-6.
A day after playing in frigid temperatures that dipped into the teens, the Grizzlies faced another round of inclement weather on Saturday as snow began to fall in the hour before kickoff and continued throughout the match. Fortunately for GGC, the effects seem to be minimal as Juan Giraldo set up German Rodriguez for a curving shot from outside the box to notch the opening tally in the 28th minute.
It was Giraldo’s turn to strike just five minutes later as Lugo set him up with a cross into the box to make it 2-0 after 33 minutes. Giraldo, a junior out of Dacula, finished the tournament with two goals and two assists to claim a spot on the A.I.I. All-Tournament squad, where he was joined by Rodriguez, Callum Mordey, Ibrahima Sissoko and Lewis Sharpe.
Sharpe, the hero of Friday’s match with seven saves, once again proved stout in goal as he registered six stops to earn the tournament’s most outstanding player award.
“I’m buzzing,” Sharpe said following the match. “It’s nice to get an award, but I couldn’t have done it without the team. We came up here to win the trophy, and it was a complete team effort.”
The match wasn’t without its drama, however, as UHV turned up the pressure in the second half, culminating with a 64th-minute strike by Miguel Cruz. The Jaguars continued to press for an equalizer, but the GGC defense proved its mettle as it weathered 11 shots in the frame without conceding another.
“We’ve focused a lot on being resilient this season,” DeCou said. “We want to be the team that perseveres, and I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen conditions like we had today. Sometimes it’s not about how pretty it is, and it’s just about getting the result. We did that today and won a championship.”