300-win CPA soccer coach Tom Gerlach reflects on year for his programs, career


300-win CPA soccer coach Tom Gerlach reflects on year for his programs, career

By CHIP CIRILLO

Christ Presbyterian Academy fell just short of its goal with a state runner-up finish in boys soccer.

But CPA’s girls won a state championship with a 1-0 victory over Chattanooga Christian in October, so it was a good year for coach Tom Gerlach’s teams.

CPA’s boys, who boasted the state’s top defense, lost 3-0 to Evangelical Christian, the top offense, in the Division II-A final at Siegel Soccer Complex on Thursday in Murfreesboro.

“Going into that game the No. 1 offense in the state (according to Coach T.com stats) was ECS and the No. 1 defense was CPA,” Gerlach said. “We were also the No. 2 offense and they were the No. 2 defense, so we had a real battle going in.”

Kuku Komtor, Evan Stookey and Brandon Brackett each scored within a six-minute span late in the first half to give ECS (21-0-3) a commanding 3-0 lead.

“Two of their goals came kind of off set pieces and the third one was just phenomenal – just ticky-tac right through our defense,” Gerlach said. “When you let down for (six) minutes and they get it in…”

ECS beat Battle Ground Academy 4-1 in Wednesday’s semifinals. CPA (21-2-0) blanked Lausanne 1-0 for its 11th shutout in 12 games.

The Eagles avenged a 2-0 quarterfinal loss to the Lions in 2018.

CPA has a veteran team with 12 seniors, including seven starters.

The Lions lost their opener 3-0 to Montgomery Bell Academy before rattling off 21 straight wins. Then came another 3-0 loss to ECS.

CPA goalkeeper Brown Myers posted 15 shutouts and boasted a 0.35 goals against average.

“Brown made six super-human saves (against ECS),” Gerlach said. “I don’t know how he did it. I wrote a college coach about him (Saturday) saying I don’t usually do this, but you’ve got to give this guy a shot. This kid is amazing. He’s one of the best reactionary-save goalkeepers I’ve ever seen.”

Wright State signee/center back Harrison Rody, Matthew Miller, Payne Trapnell and Sam Lewis have given Myers lots of support.

“Up until the state finals, we had six goals scored on us the whole year,” Gerlach said. “Really, the only goals that we got scored on were off of set pieces, not really in the flow of the game.”

CPA’s Sam Ellis, John Michael Ritchie and Baker Avinger each scored over 13 or more goals.

The Lions played a clean brand of soccer the entire season.

“They didn’t get a single yellow card for dissent or unsportsmanlike conduct,” Gerlach said. “Now, they got yellow cards for hard play and things like that. It’s easy to show good character when you’re winning, but it’s hard when you’re losing. … Our motto is love God, love the brothers, love the game.”

Gerlach emphasizes character over soccer fundamentals.

“I have a box of trophies in the attic and a box of trophies in my office that are just going to rust away,” Gerlach said. “But when my players call me and tell me, ‘Hey, coach I’m getting married’ or ‘Hey, coach I’m having a kid,’ those are the things that matter.”

About a month ago, Gerlach attended the funeral of a former player, Ben Miller, 33, who died after a battle with Crohn’s Disease.

“What was amazing wasn’t the fact that he was a state champion (at Christian Academy of Knoxville),” Gerlach said. “It was the fact that he went around Chicago helping the homeless and he went around Chicago helping people who didn’t have things because it was his character.

“Those are the eternal investments. Championships are great, but I’ve got a lot of rings that are sitting in my safe that don’t matter, but the investment in my players’ lives is the whole point of why I do what I do.”

Gerlach cherishes a photo on his desk of Miller celebrating a state title.

A 17-year veteran coaching boys and girls, Gerlach recorded his 300th win in a region semifinal victory over Franklin Road Academy.

“I remember my 100th win, that was against Webb,” said Gerlach, who coached CAK from 2003-10. “My 200th win was against DCA. Those are milestones in your life. That’s a lot of soccer. The players put the ball in the back of the net, I was just the guy on the sidelines that was privileged to be able to work with them.”

Gerlach knows someone who has 700 more wins than him.

“I have a friend, Lee Horton, who coaches in North Carolina at Charlotte Latin, he got his 1000th win,” Gerlach said. “To me, that’s just phenomenal. We were laughing about how coaching will age you. 1,000 wins, that seems so far away.”

It took CPA’s girls 110 minutes and six rounds of penalty kicks to beat Chattanooga Christian.

Sophomore Sylvie Keck’s first goal of the season gave CPA the championship on a penalty kick.

“I’ve taken PKs before for travel [teams] and they are honestly the most nerve-racking thing you can do in travel because everyone’s eyes are on that one ball,” Keck said. “It’s just so crazy and it’s such a long walk, and it feels even longer when you’re actually doing it.”

CPA and Chattanooga Christian both scored twice on the muddy field during the round of five, setting the stage for an unlikely hero from 12 yards out.

“Your heart is beating so fast and so [the ball] is going into the right lower corner,” Keck said. “And honestly it wasn’t that good of a shot. I practiced it so much in practice, and had it perfect where I wanted it to go and it was a pretty ugly PK. I’m not going to lie, but somehow, someway it went in.”

Chattanooga Christian goalkeeper Katelyn Dirkse stopped the shot initially, but it trickled through to the back of the net.

“I just had a moment of pure relief,” Keck said. “I was half-laughing because it was such a bad PK and half, like, ‘Oh, my gosh, we can actually win this one in a matter of seconds.’ I just turned around and literally slapped my teammates, like, ‘I don’t know how that just happened.’ We were so happy.”

The Lady Chargers still had a chance to tie it, but Kayla Wegner’s diving save on the ensuing penalty kick gave CPA its first state title since 2012.

That capped a 19-0-1 season, giving veteran coach Tom Gerlach his first unbeaten team.

“We came close in 2016 with the guys,” Gerlach said of the 21-1-3 season that ended with a 2-1 loss to Christian Academy of Knoxville in the Class A/AA final.

“This year you didn’t want to jinx it, but you knew it was a possibility going in. You’d love to win them all, but as a realist you know that you’re going to be facing some pretty good teams.”

CPA outscored its opponents 100-10, taking only one yellow card along the way. The players also excelled in the classroom with a 3.9 grade point average.

“What they did is really unheard of, so these girls are really special,” Gerlach said. “They play with heart, but they play really clean. They might play aggressive, but they don’t come in with their cleats up. It says a lot about their character.”

The Lady Lions recorded their 14th shutout in the state final.

“We have two center backs that are college-level players,” said Gerlach, referring to Keck and Cece Pascarella. “And two outstanding athletes at outside fullback [Lillie Cooley, Grace Ann Glisson] a tremendous goalkeeper and a [good] defensive center-mid [Megan Lewis]. They were a defensive force.”

Freshman striker Caroline Betts set a national record with seven straight hat tricks early in the season and she finished the year with 14, highlighting her 48 goals. She debuted with 36 goals as an eighth-grader in 2017.

Molly Thorne added 20 goals and Caroline Moore scored 13, giving CPA three potent scorers.

“[Caroline Betts] has one of the best technical starting and stopping speeds that I’ve ever seen,” Gerlach said. “And she can shoot with either foot: left or right. The thing that makes her even more remarkable is she’s coachable.”

Gerlach rebuilt the CPA program quickly after arriving in 2015.

The Lady Lions went 5-6-3 the year before he got there and they’ve gone 72-11-7 since then, including A/AA runner-up showings in 2015 and 2016 and last year’s DII-A semifinal appearance.

“We’ve just kind of righted the ship,” Gerlach said. “If you love each other off the field, you kind of battle for each other on the field. Whenever everyone buys into what you’re selling, it makes the job a whole lot easier.”

Gerlach wants his players to perform with freedom and joy, so he tries to encourage them instead of screaming at them.

He coached previously at CAK and has won eight state titles in 16 years, coaching girls and boys. His combined record is 305-52.

Chattanooga Christian (19-4-2) finished second for the third time in four years as CPA ended its nine-game win streak.

“CPA is a very, very good team so holding them down to no goals was quite a feat,” Lady Chargers coach Cal Snellner said. “They’re very dangerous even in the sloppy conditions.”

The only blemish on CPA’s record was a 1-1 tie to Battle Ground Academy on Sept. 18. CPA won its last nine games despite losing Moore to a season-ending knee injury in the BGA rematch one month later.

She cheered on the Lady Lions in the state final from a wheelchair one day after her surgery.

CPA blanked Gerlach’s former team, CAK, 6-0, in the first round of the DII-A tournament before rallying twice from one-goal deficits in a 3-2 semifinal win over St. George’s. Sophomore Meredith Finucane scored the winning goal with five minutes left for CPA, which had never trailed in a game before the semi.

Photo from CPA. 

Class A boys

Sam Barrionuevo scored twice to lead Grace Christian Academy to its first state title with a 4-1 win over Gatlinburg-Pittman last Friday.

Shewit Worton and Malachi Jones also scored for Grace (21-2-2).

Class AAA

Brentwood (18-1-1) lost to eventual state champion Bearden 1-0 in the semifinals at Spring Fling.

Class AA

Fairview (17-4-1) fell to eventual state champion Greeneville in the semifinals at Spring Fling.

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