If practice makes perfect, then Joey Ralph's years on the soccer field are paying off in a big way.
The Athlete Spotlight is on Evans junior Joey Ralph.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The Evans High School goalkeeper began playing soccer when he was 5, and he's polished his game through hard work and plenty of determination.
Although he played a variety of positions as a youngster, Ralph found a niche in middle school where his goalkeeping skills earned him MVP honors. Ralph earned the same defensive honors in high school, as well as a coach's award last year for his efforts.
The junior, who played the swing position his freshman year at Evans, "fit right into the starting role last year," said Assistant Coach Ben Grayson. Ralph helped launch the team toward its 13-5-1 overall record this season, and was instrumental helping the Panthers maintain another perfect division record of 8-0. Last year the Knights also went 8-0 in division play. "I'd take him as my keeper over anyone in the state," Grayson said. 'He does what it takes for us to win.'
Ralph is the ultimate keeper, holding the line through fast, aggressive, smart decisions.
"His dives for the ball and his punts are amazing," Grayson said. "He excels as one of the top keepers in the state."
The 17-year old is quick to share credit with teammates. "It's a team effort. We all work together," he said. "Everybody's got the heart to win." Ralph considers the team defense to be strong because of cooperation and communication.
The Knights defense logged several shutouts this year and last, demonstrating their ability to work together. This strong defense was instrumental in Evans' victory as Region 7 AAAAA champs, and helped the team move through the first-round playoffs in the state tournament where they took on Roswell, which was ranked 9th. Ralph had some key saves in the game, including one in the last five seconds when a perfectly placed shot lofted over the heads of Evans defenders. The keeper's quick reactions took the ball out of play, earning the Panthers a victory in first-round state playoffs, giving them their first win against a team ranked in the top 10.
Ralph, the son of Ron and Darlene Ralph of Martinez, also plays club soccer in the Augusta area. He keeps up with his studies, maintaining an A/B average in school, and finds time to play the drums in the school band. He wants to play college soccer, but hasn't yet settled on a field of academic study.
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