STORY BY MITCHELL STEPHENSON | PHOTOS BY CARL EDMONDSON, JR.
The Grace Christian Academy Lions completed a trifecta of goals for this soccer season.
They represented Christ to the best of their abilities with their play and sportsmanship, they dedicated the season to their teammate and friend Carson Anderson, a sophomore who had sat out most of the season due to a cancer diagnosis, and they won their very first state championship, defeating Gatlinburg-Pittman 4-1 in the Class A finals Friday at MTSU.
Their goals were right in line with the athletic department’s mission statement: “to glorify God through the discipleship of student athletes and the pursuit of excellence in athletics with the Bible as the foundation and Jesus Christ as our focus.”
GCA controlled the pace of the game from the start. Sam Barrionuevo got the Lions on the board quickly at the 5:33 mark with an assist from Levi Jones. At the 16:22 mark Malachi Jones scored, making it 2-0 GCA.
At the 22:05 mark Barrionuevo scored once more, giving the Lions a commanding 3-0 lead that they took into the half. In the second half Shewit Worton scored off an assist from Alex Johnson at the 61:51 mark, making it 4-0.
Gatlinburg-Pittman was able to get a late goal to make it 4-1, but the Lions gave up no more scores and finished the season as state champions.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our team,” head coach David DeFatta said. “We have a really young team. But they’re talented. They play with a lot of heart, and enthusiasm. But the one thing that stood out to me this year is their love for each other, and then their love for Christ.
“We’ve been talking for weeks about trusting and believing in each other. Remembering who we are, on the field, and off the field. But then ultimately remembering who we serve, and how we play this game. And God’s gifted us all with different giftings. And there’s 24 guys over there who have phenomenal gifts. And I’m just proud to see them put those gifts to work in God’s honor and glory. “
The highlight of the game was seeing Anderson play with his teammates. He played significant time in both halves and not only gave his team and emotional boost, but also gave everything he had mentally and physically alongside his fellow Lions.
Anderson was diagnosed with bone cancer last fall. He had just completed his last round of chemotherapy earlier in the week and was cleared to play soccer with his teammates, just in time for a historic state finals game for GCA.
After the victory, Anderson celebrated with his team and lifted the stated championship trophy towards the Grace Christian fanbase.
The Lions community cheered with pride for what this team has accomplished.
“It felt wonderful to be out there,” Anderson said. “I love my team, I love my coaches, I love my fans, and my family. It’s all glory to God. We played hard, and came out and won 4-1 against a a great Gatlinburg-Pittman team. It just felt amazing to be out there to play today. I just have no words for how it feels.”
Malachi Jones, the standout freshman left winger, echoed Anderson’s sentiments.
“We just came out here and knew we weren’t just playing for ourselves,” he said.”We knew we were playing for the Lord and our brother Carson. We just knew we had to leave it all out on the field.
“Win or lose we knew it was our last game and we just had to do it for each other and the Lord. I think we game out and did that. We had a fast start. Gatlinburg-Pittman is a great team. They have very good players, and a great coach, but we just came out and I think we wanted it more.”
The Lions finish the year and their time in Class A with a sterling 21-2-2 record ahead of the school’s move to D-II this fall.