By Marty Kirkland
CARROLLTON — Many teams felt the sting of a loss to Dalton High School’s boys soccer team this season, but Southeast Whitfield’s pain was multiplied four times over.
The worst of the defeats was not only the most lopsided on the scoreboard for the Raiders, it was undoubtedly the one that felt the worst, too. Failing to top your rival in a state title match has that effect.
But despite their 5-0 loss to the Catamounts in Friday night’s Class 4A championship at the University of West Georgia’s Ra-Lin Field, the Raiders’ head coach, Kevin Kettenring, expressed approval for what they did accomplish.
“I think we overachieved all year long,” he said. “I don’t think anybody would have gone ‘Yeah, they’re going to be here playing Dalton.’ But I’m proud of every one of them. We had a lot of roadblocks, a lot of adversity, a lot of hurdles. They put up with me — and that’s big.
“It’s just been a wonderful year, it really has. It’s been great in retrospect. But it’s going to hurt because nobody wants to lose again to Dalton four times in a season.”
This team likely would have been memorable for Kettenring no matter what — after previously serving as an assistant for the boys team and leading the Lady Raiders, it was his first year as the Raiders’ head coach — but his players made sure he’ll remember them and the fight they put up to make a deep postseason run.
Despite playing all of their matches on the road, the Raiders worked their way to one final rematch with the Cats.
Kettenring wasn’t happy that it didn’t go his team’s way, but for a lineup that had battled injuries in the postseason and was playing without one of its team captains — senior Jorge Hurtado was suspended after being red-carded late in Southeast’s overtime victory at Northwest Whitfield in Wednesday’s state semifinals — the coach kept the night in perspective.
“I don’t know if Jorge on the field would have helped, but his leadership and play and vocal communication as a captain ... ,” Kettenring said, his voice trailing off. “When that red card came out, you say ‘What do we gotta do here?’ … Take absolutely nothing away from Dalton, though. They’re just a well-oiled, well-motivated and well-managed machine.”
Kettenring was aware of the rarity and special nature of having two teams from Whitfield County play for the state title, and he believes the years ahead are promising not only for his program but the area soccer scene in general.
He mentioned Northwest’s presence in the state semifinals as well as Coahulla Creek, Murray County and North Murray making the state tournaments for their respective classifications as signs the local programs already deserve to be recognized for what they’ve established.
“The future’s going to be really neat,” he said. “To get these guys charged about this kind of deal — it’s special.”