Jay Gravatte is aware that Fairdale High School is known in sports circles for its basketball tradition, but he’s trying to get recognition for another sport.
He’s the first-year coach of the boys’ soccer squad, and his Bulldogs took a 13-1-3 record into Thursday’s regular-season finale at Meade County.
“For us to be the new kids on the block at Fairdale and having the success we’ve had, everybody’s embraced it,” Gravatte said. “I grew up close to the area, and I never once thought of Fairdale being able to do something like this.”
Athletic director Ernest Smith is uncertain about previous years but noted the school didn’t have a soccer program from 1993-2007. The Bulldogs finished around .500 in the four seasons since 2008 before soaring this year.
“It’s not so much individual skill as it is just a gritty group of guys,” said Gravatte, whose team’s only loss was to Eastern (3-0) on Aug. 28. “Some games I thought we were beat and we pulled through and got a tie or a win. This group just refused to lose.”
Senior forward Deniz Merzihic leads the Bulldogs with 20 goals, and junior midfielder Mohamud Hussein has 10.
Gravatte said the key has been a defense — led by goalkeeper Ben Avalos — that has allowed just 15 goals and has posted seven shutouts.
“We’ve had a lot of games where teams just didn’t have a chance to score against us,” Gravatte said.
The roster includes several foreign-born players, with Kenya, Somalia, Bosnia, Albania, Iraq and Panama represented.
“Those kids understand and believe what the coaches are trying to get them to do,” Smith said. “They’ve bought in and been fun to watch. They’re great kids … and I think they’ve made Fairdale soccer respectable enough that people are taking notice.”
Realignment moved several powerhouse programs out of the Sixth Region and has Gravatte thinking of the regional crown. Fairdale will host the Pleasure Ridge Park-Holy Cross winner at 8 p.m. Tuesday in the 21st District final, with both finalists advancing to the regional.
“Iroquois has a great team, and DeSales is a lot like us in that they’re tough-minded,” Gravatte said of other top Sixth Region contenders. “But I think we’re the favorite. I have faith in these boys against anybody we might play.”
Mercy senior guard Whitney Hartlage committed to play basketball for Chattanooga and plans to sign in November. Regarded as one of the state’s best 3-point shooters, the 5-foot-8 Hartlage averaged 13.3 points last season and earned first-team All-Sixth Region honors. She chose the Lady Mocs over Lipscomb, among others.
* Assumption maintained the No. 1 ranking in the Kentucky Volleyball Coaches Association’s Top 25. The Rockets are 33-2 entering district tournament play next week after beating No. 2 Notre Dame 25-23, 25-14, 25-23 on Wednesday. Both of their losses were to San Diego Torrey Pines, which is ranked No. 1 in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com (Assumption is No. 3).
The entire state Top 25:
1. Assumption, 2. Notre Dame, 3. Sacred Heart, 4. St. Henry, 5. Mercy, 6. Henry Clay, 7. Manual, 8. Ryle, 9. Paul Dunbar, 10. Male, 11. Louisville Holy Cross, 12. Presentation, 13. Lone Oak, 14. Tates Creek, 15. North Oldham, 16. Lafayette, 17. Central Hardin, 18. Covington Holy Cross, 19. South Oldham, 20. Owensboro Catholic, 21. Simon Kenton, 22. Green County, 23. Greenwood, 24. Eastern, 25. Pulaski Southwestern.