Crusaders win third straight CCC soccer championship
Grace Christian won its third straight Carolina Christian Conference season championship, doing so with a perfect 9-0-0 record, with a 10-0 win over Cresset Christian on Tuesday.
Since entering the CCC and the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association three years ago, the Crusaders are perfect in CCC season play, going 25-0-0. A loss in the 2011 tournament final, 2-1 to Grace Christian of Raleigh, now in 2A NCISAA and a different conference, is the only Crusader setback.
“We have worked really hard to have the program that we have now,” said Crusader head coach Chris Pratt.
“All of the success is owed to my former and current players. They have put in hard work in the offseason and during the season to make sure our run continues. I’m so proud to be Grace’s coach and the accomplishments they have won.”
This season's team is the most experienced Pratt's had. The group of nine Crusader seniors has put in the effort trying to go one step past their state runner-up finish in last year's NCISAA State Tournament.
“This year’s team put in long hours this summer. These guys have been playing together for more than four years, some even longer. Having nine seniors has definitely helped us. I am blessed to be their coach and we are excited about the postseason," Pratt said.
On Thursday afternoon, the Crusaders prevailed 4-0 in a non-conference match against Charlotte 2A school First Assembly School. The Eagles are currently ranked in the top 15 in 2A.
Crusader senior Evan Kannarr scored his 22nd goal of the season, with the assist from Ricardo Castaneda to give Grace Christian the lead. Later in the first half, Castaneda was fouled in the box and Joel Benitez converted the penalty to make it 2-0.
The second half was controlled by the Eagles early on, despite only registering two shots. Grace Christian picked up the intensity 20 minutes into the half when Victor Mondragon served the ball to the far post, which was volleyed home by Salvador Leonidez. One minute later, Benitez chipped the ball to Jose Leonidez, who slid the ball past a diving keeper to give the Crusaders a 4-0 lead.
“We needed a game like (Thursday),” said Pratt. “We know we are going to have to play well against tough opponents, and we did so today.”
The Crusaders finish the regular season 20-2-1 overall. The 20 wins is a regular-season record for the program.
The CCC Tournament is next week. Lee Christian will host the semifinals on Thursday and final on Friday. The Crusaders will host a quarterfinal game, against the winner of Crossroads Christian and Wayne Christian, at 5 p.m. Tuesday.