Christopher Wuensch, CWuensch@ExplorerNews.com
Oct. 26, 2005 - They banter over the pros and cons of chemistry and marine biology class while warming up. During water breaks sandwiched between drills, they discuss the old writing styles of Anglo Saxon Literature.
Success between the chalk lines for the Green Fields Country Day School's soccer team has always been nothing short of academic. But this season has been an up-and-down one for Green Fields, a private school often more noted for its scholars than its athletes.
Despite its rises and falls, Green Fields has needed all 21 of its games this season to keep itself in the thick of the playoff hunt, fighting for the final slot in the state tournament. The Griffins last week secured that spot - a fourth seed - in its final game with a win over Valley Lutheran and some outside help from other teams.
And no matter what the educational chatter is about, even as its season swirls around them, the topic always returns to soccer.
"We'll spend breaks working with people just for fun," said senior forward Danielle Theodore. "If someone's not getting something then we'll try a drill to help them out. We don't care about anybody scoring or not scoring, it's just about everybody getting better. Every single person on this team is 10 times better than they were before."
Goals, however, have been in short supply this season; leaving the Griffins looking for other ways to win 10 games against its 10 loses and a tie.
Green Fields success has come via its defense, mostly on the strength of its goalie. Griffins head coach Matt Smith has employed a platoon in goal with junior Carr Cavender and freshman John Schaffner. Schaffner often spells the lightning-quick Cavender in goal when the team needs to counter an opposing team's speed.
Cavender, who has scored a few goals of his own this year, has emerged as a vocal team leader.
"Our starting keeper right now is amazing," said junior right fullback Robert Leeds of Cavender. "As soon as the team leaves his hands it's going to be a struggle."
Those who have found the back of the net for the Griffins include Theodore, who leads the team with nine goals, followed by junior Sebastian Glen and senior captain Jim Rollings.
Theodore and Anna Fiastro form a unique tandem on the field, one unmatched by any other team in the Class 1A-3A in which the Griffins play. No other school starts two girls with as much influence over a game as the Griffins duo. Theodore is a mid-fielder while the junior Fiastro anchors the defense.
To end its season in the state tourney is a feat that many didn't think possible at the start of the year.
"I think we've had a better year than most would expect," said Leeds.
The Griffins have lost 10 seniors from last year's squad, which finished second in the region before being knocked out in the first round of the state tournament by Snowflake High School on extra penalty kicks. This year's team has only six seniors, three that are starters. The rest of the lineup relies on a strong junior class and a handful of freshman - including Charlie Cordier and Shaffner.
With an enrollment of 87 students in the school, the soccer team comprises more than 25 percent of the student-body. At state they'll face Class 3A schools with enrollments as high as 949 students.
"Last year was kind of a dream team," said Cavender. "This year we weren't even expecting much at all and at the middle of the season to have a chance of being first place in our conference we felt really lucky."
A berth into the state tourney took on a different route this season. This year, Green Fields switched regions transferring into the Metro from the South Region. Whereas the old region housed three or four quality teams and five or six sub par programs, the Metro is evenly balanced and rife with parity. Four teams have staked their share of first place in the Class 2A Metro this season, if only for a short time.
"Every time a team gets in first, they end up losing the next game and getting knocked down," said coach Smith. "So it's been a rotation."
At the start of the year it appeared the Griffins would be the class of the league, leading the six-school region during the season's opening month. Since then injuries and other internal team strife have brought the team back to .500.
"We had our high point and we kind of got self-absorbed," said Leeds.
A state tournament game in Phoenix may be exactly what the Griffins need to win its first soccer playoff game in school history. This year Green Fields has more wins on the road in Phoenix than it does at home, said Smith.
Theodore has a theory on the team's success on the road.
"It's definitely the bus ride," said the senior. "The potential is always there for us. It just depends if we come to play."
Even if the Griffins lose, one thing is for sure: They'll have plenty to talk about on the ride home.