Setting records with time to spare
Grace Christian's Madison Bolen is an unlikely two-time all-state soccer standout. First of all, she's a two-time NCISAA All-State player as an eighth-grader.
Bolen, with 39 goals and 28 assists in the 24 Lady Crusader matches this season for 55 goals and 40 assists in her career, is Grace Christian's all-time leading scorer, in the boys and girls programs, with four years to go.
Bolen earned tournament MVP as the Lady Crusaders won the Carolina Christian Conference Tournament earlier this month, winning an all-Sanford final match 6-3 against Lee Christian. Bolen's MVP goes with a first team all-conference spot for the regular season.
In part perhaps because, as Grace Christian head coach Chris Pratt certainly acknowledges, Bolen's still the age when most players are on a JV or middle school squad, having Bolen become a leader, along with already being a dominant scorer, for the Lady Crusaders wasn't entirely smooth this season.
"We really struggled and the beginning of the year and I was ultra hard on her, plus our schedule was one of the toughest in the state, by design, early in the season," Pratt said.
Pratt, who can be fiery and demanding for stretches on the sideline, even while the Lady Crusaders may be in good shape on the scoreboard, has and will continue to be, he said, tough on his best players.
"It's just his style," Bolen said. "We all know what he means. We know what he wants from us and we know it's not really about how loud he is or anything like that."
Partially because players such as Bolen and freshman Torie Boyte, also a repeat all-conference player who scored 29 goals and 16 assists this season and is Grace Christian's second-best all-time goalscorer, are team-first players who are fine with some tough coaching, and partially because of a talk between Pratt and Bolen partway into the season, the Lady Crusaders finished the season strong. Grace Christian set a program record with 13 wins and reached the state quarterfinals for the first time.
"I let (Bolen) know I care about you," Pratt said, "and I want to get the best out of you because of your future.
"She doesn't always believe she's the best player on the field and in most games, probably nine of 10 games we play, she's the best player," he said.
Pratt wants Bolen to excel while continuing to be a great teammate.
"She's always putting the team before herself and that's the mark of a really good player in my opinion," Pratt said.
"We were really learning to work together and give the Lord the credit, because we couldn't do it alone," Bolen said of the late-season success.
"We put a lot of effort, a lot of practice, into it and we made a lot of progress," she said. "It's nice to know all the work was paying off and we'll get there next year."
Bolen's great season came after trading year-around club/travel soccer for being on the Lady Crusader volleyball and basketball teams. At first glance it might look like Bolen's easing up with soccer, that's not so at all though.
"It's the atmosphere of the school and I really like being involved with my friends, but it's also about being competitive. I like winning. So it's a combination of both," Bolen said.
Bolen is earning interest from college soccer programs, including Division I schools, Pratt said. Bolen will still have plenty of soccer on her schedule, including camps she's been invited to this summer.
There will be time down the road for serious recruiting info. With this soccer season done and summer break coming up, now's the right time for a little bit of a break before Lady Crusader volleyball, basketball and soccer for 9-10 straight months - along with becoming a high schooler.