The Woodland boys soccer team is one of the most senior-heavy squads in Bartow County to see its spring season abruptly ended by the COVID-19 outbreak.
With a total of nine seniors, the Wildcats saw nearly half of their roster suffer a painfully premature end to their high school careers. Thus is life for a senior-laden team in 2020.
“First of course, my reaction was that I was very frustrated,” Woodland head coach Ed Guse said, “not only because we did not finish the season but also because I have nine seniors this year.”
The senior class consisted of Dylan Ferguson, Preston Godfrey, Roberto Gonzalez, Romeo Hall, Miguel Hernandez, Jayson Jeske, Charly Munoz, Avery Rogers and Gustavo Tinoco. Hernandez is probably the most accomplished member of the group, earning a spot on The Daily Tribune News All-County team as a sophomore.
“Unfortunately, it was very sad for them, but it is an unprecedented situation that we are in,” Guse said, “and we can not change anything, just do the best to be safe.”
While the ending will no doubt serve as a demoralizing conclusion to a four-year journey, Woodland’s Class of 2020 should take solace in knowing just how far the program has come during their time with the Wildcats.
In 2016, the season before the group entered high school, Woodland went winless, according to EurosportScoreboard. After that year, when the only bright spot was a 2-1 win over Adairsville in a preseason scrimmage, the Wildcats have managed to claw their way back into relevancy.
First came a 4-10-2 season. Followed by a 6-9-1 campaign. In both of those years, Woodland went 2-6 in Region 7-AAAAA. Last spring, the Wildcats posted an above .500 record at 7-5-3. They also finished 4-4 in the region, which was good enough for a fifth-place finish in the rugged nine-team league.
That’s quite the turnaround from an 0-16 season just three years prior.
“I have been with the majority of this group for four years together,” Guse said of the senior class. “It was frustrating [the way it ended], but again, nothing we could do to change the situation.”
Before the coronavirus put a halt to this season, Woodland (6-4-1, 2-3) appeared as though it could increase its win total for the fourth straight year — or at least match its seven wins from 2019. The Wildcats, though, probably wouldn’t have been able to get to 4-4 in the region with three tough opponents — Villa Rica, East Paulding and Carrollton — to go.
Crucial defeats to Paulding County and Cass would have likely been too much to overcome, but there was still an outside shot at making the playoffs if things fell the right way.
“We started the season well, but lost two very important games,” Guse said. “We still had some chance to go to the playoffs. A lot games were very close.”
Woodland should have an easier time challenging for the postseason in the newly realigned region, which features just six schools, set to debut next school year.
Had it been in place this season, Blessed Trinity and Cartersville would have been practically state tournament shoo-ins. Hiram seemingly would have been in last place. That would leave the Wildcats in a three-way battle with Cass and Calhoun for the final two playoff spots.
With nearly double-digit seniors set to graduate and a young squad that included just three juniors this year set to return, Woodland might suffer a slight downturn next season. The hope, though, is that the young core can make sure any struggles in 2021 are a mere blip on the overall trajectory of the program.
“I will have a very young group for next year,” Guse said, “but again, if they work together, we can do well.”