Williamston went into the 2012 boys soccer state tournament after a pretty average-looking season.
The Hornets finished the regular season with a record of 13-7-1, a second-place finish in the CAAC White, and came in as runners-up in the CAAC Silver Cup.
But they came alive in a memorable postseason, advancing all the way to the Division 3 state championship game before falling in double overtime to perennial power Grand Rapids South Christian.
The Hornets did it without superstar players, and with a quality of calm, quiet confidence that began with coach Brent Sorg.
“Player for player, they understood what their roles were,” Sorg said. “The key really was everyone performing their role the best they could. When everything was clicking and all the pieces were working together, that’s when you get good quality.”
Sorg enlisted the help of a sports psychologist for his team during the season, and pointed to an incident during the season as somewhat of a turning point.
In their first game in the CAAC Silver Cup against Jackson Northwest, Sorg found himself on the verge of losing control over what he saw as a bad call by the referee.
“The thing for me was, take a deep breath and don’t make it an emotional outburst. Be more productive with it,” Sorg said. “When you have an emotional outburst, the kids see that.”
That calmer demeanor helped the Hornets in their tournament run, which came immediately after they lost 5-3 to Lansing Eastern in the Silver Cup final. The five goals that they gave up in that final was one more than the total they would allow in all six of their postseason games.
Sorg said that he prepared his team for the close games that they would play as the tournament went on.
“We really trained in the latter part of the season about dealing with goal-up and goal-down situations,” he said. “We practice (penalty kicks) after every practice, and we do it from day one. Some days are a little bit lax, but we remind them that it’s important because it’s going to win or lose you a game somewhere down the road.”
That road led to the state semifinals, in which the Hornets gave up a late tying goal to Elk Rapids to send it to overtime and eventually a shootout.
“I’ll never forget Phil Erickson coming up to me after the game and telling me, ‘Coach, I wasn’t even nervous. I was so confident stepping up, it was no big deal.’ I had all the confidence in the world,” Sorg said.
In the state championship game, the Hornets fell in the second overtime period, but still made history in the program.
“I believe that there have been better teams, better players that have come through here that, in my mind, should have gone further,” Sorg said. “For whatever reason, this group banded together, played for each other and didn’t care who got the credit.”