The Walton boys soccer team suffered its first loss in six games in the second round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs to Hillgrove to conclude the 2019 season.
Prior to that six game run, the Raiders were looking at a 3-8 record and senior defender Joao Gayola called a team meeting.
“That’s not the Walton standard,” Gayola said. “We had a team meeting to try and change some things. Then we played Pope and tied them and they were ranked nationally.”
With a predominantly young team, it was up to Gayola to turn the tide and bring the Raiders back to state prominence, coming in second in Region 4AAAAAAA. Because of his performance, Gayola was named the Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Boys Soccer Player of the Year..
“I had a different role, being the only remaining starter from the year before,” Gayola said. “It was all a bunch of sophomores, so I had to lead them. There weren’t a lot of seniors.”
There were just six seniors, and the leadership from Gayola led to a winning streak that even caught coach Bruce Wade by surprise.
“We had a team meeting and there was a training session where we saw where we needed to be to be effective,” Wade said. “That Pope game was a huge turnaround for us.”
Gayola’s leadership didn’t begin with the Pope game. It was something that had been developing throughout his four-year career, Wade said.
“Throughout his four years he’s been a top notch player, hard working kid. His sophomore year he was a starter and learned a lot from the older guys,” Wade said. “This year, he stepped into that leadership role.”
Though a natural offensive force, Wade used Gayola on defense to stop teams from scoring and limit the pressure on his fellow senior goalkeeper.
“I had a good high school career I think,” Gayola said. “But I’m probably retired. I’ve had enough of soccer.”
Boys Soccer All-County
Carlos Maldonado Pebblebrook M Jr.
Gillem Fabergas Lassiter GK Jr.
Michael Garcia Pebblebrook F Jr.
Joao Gaylola Walton D Sr.