When Alex Ghoja joined the Central High boys soccer program before this season, the first thing he did was ask his players what they wanted out of the season. What were their goals?
The players wrote down a number of things from a specific number of wins to a playoff berth. There was one word, though, that stood out above the others:
Now, with the regular season behind them, the Red Devils have reached one of those goals. They earned their first playoff berth in program history, where they will play Prattville in the Class 6A first round on Friday.
The respect, however, is still a work in progress.
"One thing I've been talking to the boys about is that we've just accomplished one goal," Ghoja said. "They've talked about earning respect, not just in the area but in the state. I've tried to relay to them that, yes, we've done something wonderful, but we can achieve more."
To do that, Central (6-4) will face a Prattville team (13-7-1) that will undoubtedly be favored in the contest. And in the playoffs, with higher stakes, Ghoja, who is in his first year coaching high school, knows how important every play can be.
"Every play, every challenge, every shot could be the one that makes or breaks a team," he said.
Central will rely on some of its more experienced players like junior captains Miguel Renteria and Patricio Neikrasas. It'll also look to defenders Aaron Dennis and Federico Neikrasas, forward Charles Oladejo and keeper Bryant Flowernoy.
"But we're not just a team of six or seven guys," Ghoja said. "Each and every guy brings something to the table. Those older guys have just helped rally the younger guys around them."
No matter how stiff the challenge is, the Red Devils are mainly excited for the moment.
"We're focused," Ghoja said. "We're up to the challenge."
Smiths Station also sent a soccer team to the AHSAA Class 6A playoffs, this one on the girls side.
The Lady Panthers (11-7-2) will also play at Prattville (14-5-3) on Friday.
The two teams met once earlier this season and battled to a 3-3 tie. Prattville went 1-2-2 in its final five contests, while Smiths Station was 3-1-1.