Close bonds guided Tallulah Falls’ drive for perfection [VIDEO]
It’s been said that the most dangerous teams are the ones who play for the other players around them, and not for themselves. Meet the 2023 Tallulah Falls Indians. The goals going in were fairly simple — win region and/or state. High hopes, and yet the recipe to make it happen was to play as a cohesive unit.
“It was refreshing,” says coach Jeremy Stille, recently named Region 8-A DI Coach of the Year. “At times as a coach you get a little frustrated. You question your methods, and whether the guys are really getting to the core of the message you’re sending. It’s refreshing to see a group of guys really come together as a group and want to do more for each other more than anything else…you have a group of guys that care about each other, and want each other to succeed.”
Along the way, the Indians looked around and realized something special was brewing, as the team jumped out to a 7-0 start with a 59-0 goal count. That’s ridiculous. And it towed along a top-5 state ranking, which a week or so later turned into a #1 ranking they held until the end of the season.
“We’ve been trying to build a core, and I think this season a lot of chemistry played into it” says junior captain Austin Ball, the Region 8-A DI Player of the Year. “We kind of just clicked, became a bit of a brotherhood. We just started working and had fun with it and enjoyed it. We ended up with a lot of success. There was never a pressure to it — we never felt like we have to stay undefeated or break records. We just enjoyed it as it came.”
Ball ended the season with 39 goals and 16 assists, both single-season program records, and holds the all-time marks as well heading into his senior season.
In cruise control, Tallulah Falls was on fire until Rabun County notched the first goal on the Indians all season, and held a 1-0 lead. Rather than panic and fold, TFS used it as a wake-up call, and came back to win 2-1.
“Honestly, I think that goal being scored on us was a good thing,” says senior captain and Collins Hill transfer Jake Hall. “I think we needed that before the playoffs and getting into tougher matches. We needed to be scored on so it didn’t hit us later. We came back and battled through it and won that game. I think later one, we used that to our advantage so that when we got scored on again, we just said ‘it’s ok, just brushed it aside and play your game. Let’s get it back.'”
Hall had 26 goals and 10 assists and is a Randolph-Macon College commit.
The program had been building up to this season, making state each of the past two seasons before this magical run.
While the offense and its 113 goals deserve a lot of the credit, the defense made it all possible. That was always the emphasis for the team, as Stille told his team from the jump he wanted them to concede less than 10 goals all season. The final tally was 6, and 3 came in the final game – a Sweet 16 loss to Whitefield Academy in overtime.
“I take a lot of pride in [keeping others off the board],” says junior defensive stalwart Brit Shaw, who along with fellow junior Jake Wehrstein (Region Defensive Player of the Year) and freshman Laith Reynolds were a defensive forcefield for sophomore keeper Kelton Reynolds. “It’s a great honor to play with these great players. It’s a great honor to be able to defend our keeper and keep other teams from scoring a goal.”
The team may have seen the season end a little earlier than it envisioned, but there’s always something to take from the experience of hosting and playing in a first-ever Sweet 16, followed by the first-ever Region Championship.
“It still stings, and it’s going to hurt for awhile,” says Reynolds, who set a program record with 13 clean sheets and 77 saves. “But we just accelerated this program to new levels. We did better than what we were predicted to do, and getting to the Sweet 16 is a great accomplishment for this program and this school, it’s never been done. Being able to go out there and do that, I think the future is upward from here. [The loss] already is fueling me. I don’t want to feel that feeling again.”
With Hall moving on along with senior standout Simeon Conjagic, most teams might have problems. But Tallulah Falls has incoming freshman who have a chance to be pretty special, and have a loaded group returning and others coming from JV that will make next year perhaps even better.
“We’ve got some great additions coming to the team next year,” adds Stille, citing the JV players who are ready and the middle schoolers that can contribute perhaps early. “We have a core group of 13-14 guys that are going to continue to get better going into next year.”
TFS went 16-1 on the season, won its first-ever Region Championship and hosted its first-ever playoff games. The Indians finished with a goal count of 113-6, and had 13 clean sheets, a #1 state ranking, a first-ever Sweet 16, and several individual and team goals were crushed.