ALEX ERICKSEN

Croatan soccer goalkeeper Alex Ericksen has been named Student-Athlete of the Week. (J.J. Smith photo)

OCEAN — Alex Ericksen thought the Croatan boys soccer team was capable of winning a state championship … in 2018 and 2019.

After losing 11 seniors from last year’s team, the three-year starter thought this season’s squad might be in for a bit of a rebuilding campaign.

“To be honest, in my sophomore and junior years, I thought we had better chances of winning a state title,” said the Croatan keeper. “In years past, we had at least seven or eight seniors. Last year, we had 11, and this year we had three. All the underclassmen really stepped up.”

The younger team kept surprising him and did so all the way to the first state championship for any soccer team in county history with a 4-1 overtime victory over Hibriten on Saturday in the 2A final at WakeMed Soccer Park.

Croatan finished undefeated with an 18-0 mark.

“It feels awesome, but I’m in disbelief,” Ericksen said nearly 48 hours after the win. “It still hasn’t hit me entirely. I think it will hit me in a week or two whenever everything settles down.”

Ericksen saved eight of the nine shots sent his way, giving up one early just eight minutes into the game. He had a couple of close calls later.

The Panthers took three shots on goal in the final 10 minutes of regulation with the senior keeper stopping two and the crossbar stopping the other.

“That one that hit the crossbar is one of the plays I keep thinking about,” he said. “I’m thankful that the crossbar was there. In the First Flight game, one hit the crossbar, but I got a hand on that one. This one, it was going in.”

The matchup with Hibrien was the dangerous type for a keeper as Ericksen watched his team dominate, holding a 22-11 advantage in shots, 18-9 in shots on goal and 8-3 in corner kicks.

“I feel like when there isn’t much happening on your end, it’s easy to lose focus, lose your place in the game,” he said. “When 5-10 minutes go by and you are out of the picture, then you have to get ready. It’s tough to regroup.”

Adding to the degree of difficulty, when the sun went down at halftime, the field quickly became dewy, causing players to slip and slide.

“In the second half, it got slick, and the ball was moving quicker,” Ericksen said. “It made it a lot harder on me, that is for sure. When the ball would hit my gloves, normally I would have caught it, but it slipped through before I was able to get a hold on it.”

The ball hitting the crossbar with five minutes to go in regulation in the state final wasn’t the only heart-stopping moment in the playoffs for his team.

The Cougars were some cardiac cats in the four rounds, defeating Carrboro 2-1, getting by James Kenan 4-3 in golden goal overtime, beating First Flight 3-1 in OT and outlasting Richlands 2-0 with two goals in the final eight minutes of regulation.

Oddly enough, the first two rounds stand out the most for Ericksen.

His team lost to Carrboro 3-2 in the second round of his sophomore season. Crroatan ended with a 12-5-1 record, while Carrboro went on to the fourth round.

“I think Travis (Garrner-McGraw), Eli (Simonette) and me are the only three that played in that game,” Ericksen said. “That win meant the most to me. It was a revenge game for that heartbreaking loss. It was really disappointing knowing we could have won that game back then. We missed some opportunities.”

Croatan was 13-0 going into the Carrboro contest this season, and only two wins had come by less than five goals.

“We were really nervous in the first round,” Ericksen said. “We knew it was going to be a lot tougher than it had all year.”

Croatan trailed twice in the overtime periods against James Kenan, falling behind 2-1 in the first 10-minute frame before Simonette tied it up, and then falling behind 3-2 in the second 10-minute stanza when Garrett Boucher hit the equalizer to send it to golden goal extra frames.

Garner-McGraw found a ball that was bouncing around the box in heavy traffic off a free kick and placed it in the net to win it in the golden goal period.

The victory put the Cougars in the third round for the first time since 2015 – they had lost in the second round for three consecutive seasons, including last year in a 2-1 loss to Ledford.

“To get past that point was awesome,” Ericksen said. “To be in the third round was something cool. It really was, so that win jumps out.”

The senior keeper finishes a superb career that saw him start 59 games and end with a 1.193 goals against average and 124 saves. Sporting a 3.6 GPA, he plans on attending Wake Technical Community College and transferring to N.C. State to major in engineering.

“I thought about playing in college, but if this is it, that is OK. It won’t break my heart,” he said. “I have no regrets. This is the best way to end it. You can’t top this.”

Here are a few of Ericksen’s favorite things, as well as his ideal groups with which to eat dinner and survive a zombie apocalypse, and the five items he would take with him on a deserted island:

Favorite Movie: “Talladega Nights.”

Favorite TV Show: “Stranger Things.”

Favorite Cartoon: “Avatar.”

Favorite Band/Artist: J. Cole.

Favorite Song: “That’s It” by Future & Lil Uzi Vert.

Favorite Book: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

Favorite Team: Green Bay Packers.

Favorite Athlete: Davante Adams.

Favorite Vacation: Anywhere by the beach.

Favorite Hobby: Playing video games.

Favorite Subject: History.

Favorite Quote: “Shooters shoot.”

Favorite Food: Chicken.

Favorite Drink: Sweat tea.

Favorite Restaurant: Bojangles.

Favorite Season: Fall.

Favorite Sports Memory: “Winning a state championship.”

Favorite Teacher: Mr. Patrick Ventre.

Favorite Sport: Soccer.

Favorite Pre-Game/Post-Game Ritual: Prayer.

Favorite Website/App: Instagram.

Favorite Follow on Twitter/Instagram: Aaron Jones.

Ideal Dinner Guest List: Davante Adams, Drake, J. Cole, Will Ferrell and Aaron Rodgers.

Ideal Group to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse: Zach Lindsay, Ryan Lindsay, Garrett Boucher, Eli Simonette, Logan Glanden, and coach Johnathon “Bean” Rigsby.

Items For A Deserted Island: Knife, lighter, hammock, phone, and portable charger.

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