Everything is coming together right now for the Milton Eagles. In the past few weeks, they’ve uncovered a star goalie, knocked off the state’s No. 1 ranked team and, in the process, claimed the No. 1 ranking themselves.
They’re now 8-1 and 7-0 in Region 2-AAAAAA play.
“We knew from the beginning we had good players,” said Eagles coach Tom Dell, now in his sixth season as coach. “It was a matter of playing as a team and everyone buying in to what we were doing. We’re starting to come together.”
Though the Eagles had put some good games together to start the season, Dell said they weren’t playing cohesively and, as a result, weren’t living up to their potential. That has changed, and now the Eagles are peaking as they seek their third state championship in the past five seasons.
The Eagles have six returning starters, all of whom were on their last state title team in 2012. They’re led by a well-balanced attack from senior attackers Justin Newell (30 goals, 23 assists), Brandon Davis (26, 11) and Jake Jenkins (13, 11), all of whom have started since their sophomore season. Senior midfielders Nick Newell (13, 4) and Chad Toliver (12, 4), along with sophomore midfielder Austin Hawks (13, 10) have also chipped in offensively.
A big development for the Eagles’ defense is the emergence of sophomore goalie Griffin Basile who earned the full time starting job following the Eagles’ lone loss to Lambert on Mar. 18. His efforts were key in wins over Etowah and then-No. 1 ranked Centennial, the defending state champions.
“He’s got great mechanics,” Dell said of Basile. “He communicates and does a wonderful job directing the players. And he’s doing good clearing the ball and passing out of the cage.”
Dell said the Eagles’ strength is it’s balanced offense, which means he leans on strong defensive play to set up the team’s many weapons. Basile, along with defensive leaders Connor McElroy, Kevin Bierbower and Nick Marabell, are making that happen.
The one blemish on the Eagles’ record is the loss to Lambert, 13-11. Lambert is also the team that prevented Milton from winning back-to-back state titles, eliminating the Eagles in the second round last year, winning 11-10. Dell characterizes the rivalry as a close one and believes the Eagles are a better team for losing to them this year.
Should they meet again in the state playoffs this year, Dell expects the match to be a high-scoring affair.
“Lambert has a great program and they’re well coached. Whenever we play them, it’s a good game that always comes down to the last seconds. It’s one of those things where whoever outworks the other is going to win.”
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