The Station Camp High School soccer team had appeared in three state tournaments and advanced to the state semifinals in 2009 and 2016, but were denied a shot at a championship each time.
That changed on May 26 when the 2017 edition of the Station Camp boys soccer team capped an undefeated season with a 1-0 victory over Houston in the TSSAA Class AAA title game. It marked the school's first-ever team state championship in its 15 years of existence.
For most of the squad, the accomplishment has started to sink in, but junior midfielder Caden McGranaghan is trying to process the impressive run.
"I'm still a little shocked to be honest," he said. "It was a great ending to the season, but I kind of wish we were still playing. This win meant everything to us."
Station Camp finished the season with a 22-0-2 record. Each of its ties came early in the season at the Smokey Mountain Cup tournament in Gatlinburg. The USA Today Super 25 poll ranked the Bison as the eighth-best team in the nation.
"It's the best feeling in the world," sophomore forward Tyler Jessen said of winning the title. "Going undefeated made it even better."
Jessen led the team with 31 goals, including the game winner against Houston, but was quick to deflect any recognition. He cited the team's defense as the backbone of the squad as Station Camp allowed just 14 goals in its 24 games.
"Our defense definitely won it for us," Jessen said. "They were amazing all season."
The victory was especially meaningful for head coach Thomas Morand, who has come close to several state championships in the past. Morand guided Bowling Green High School to the state finals in 1995, only to be beaten in double overtime by Louisville Ballard.
Morand has been with Station Camp since the beginning in 2002 and built the program from the ground up, but he said all credit is due to the players.
"It was difficult at first, because we had to develop a culture and get the facilities built up," Morand said. "Each senior class has raised the standards of what's excepted. The credit goes to the players because they are the ones that have gone out and executed what we've asked them to do."
Station Camp had talented teams in 2015 and 2016, but the 2017 seemed to gel perfectly. The Bison were hardly challenged until the state tournament, often winning games by large margins. Station Camp outscored its opponents 105-14.
"I think it was our chemistry," McGranaghan said. "I've never been with a group of people that was so close. We hung out almost every single day. It was something special."
The championship also provided a fitting end to the careers of Station Camp's seven seniors, who helped the team win 68 games over the last three seasons.
"It's something that we've been working towards our whole lives," senior midfielder Noah Ashley said of the title. "Winning that last game made it all worth it. We've played together for a long time and are one big family."
Goalies Eli McCormick, Christopher Palevo, and Alex Sanchez combined to produced 13 clean sheets.
"It was kind of boring for me in goal at times, but other than that, it was great," McCormick said of the team's blowout wins. "We played as a team and all believed in each other."
Sanchez figures to be the full-time starter next year as Pavelo graduates and McCormick moves on to Union University to continue his playing career.
Perhaps the biggest loss for Station Camp will be that of senior forward Chase Freeman, who finished the season with 22 goals and 16 assists.
Although Freeman is heading to Wagner College to play basketball, his impact on the soccer field will certainly be remembered. Freeman helped the Bison to an 81-8-2 record in his four years on the varsity squad, while also winning three district and three region championships.
The future appears to be bright for the Bison thanks to the number of talented underclassmen that will return. In addition to Jessen, McGranaghan, and Sanchez, Station Camp will return Atakelti Gebregzabher (23 goals), Christian Sanchez (12 goals), Riley Indermuehle (9 goals), and Josh Street (8 goals).
Defenders Stone Bresnahan and Hunter Beaty will also be back to anchor the back line.
"We've got a good returning group," Morand said. "It comes down to whether they are satisfied or want to keep working to get better. The quality of talent will be there, but it's their mental approach to the game that will make the difference."