By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
When Tyler Thompson played in his first boys’ soccer game for Williams, he was surprised by his role.
Coach Jeremy Krist knew what he was doing.
“I got off the bus,” Thompson recalled of the 2019 season opener at Reagan, “and he said, ‘You’re starting this game.’ ”
That’s when Thompson was a freshman. Until an injury a few weeks ago, Thompson was always in the starting lineup for the Bulldogs.
He provides a stabilizing presence for the Williams defense as a four-year starter at center back. Now, he’s helping the Bulldogs pursue another state championship.
Thompson and senior Jose Hernandez were the only current Bulldogs who played on Williams’ 2019 state championship team.
“We’re trying to reach that game every season now,” Thompson said. “I think we all know what it’s going to take.”
Williams (19-1-2) is the top seed in the Class 3-A East Region, winning 4-0 against East Wake in Monday night’s opener of the state playoffs. On Thursday night, No. 17 seed Southern Durham (16-6) visits Burlington Memorial Stadium for a second-round game against the Bulldogs.
Thompson’s friends were on the junior varsity when he was competing on the varsity level. He had a string of 77 consecutive starts – and it likely would have been more games if not for the pandemic-reduced schedule in his sophomore year.
That streak ended last month when Thompson suffered an ankle sprain in the Bulldogs’ lone loss to Western Alamance. He missed two games.
“It felt weird sitting out,” he said.
It was strange for Krist as well.
“We’ve started a lot of kids in a lot of games,” Krist said of the past few seasons. “He has started a load of them. He has just always been there.”
Against No. 32 seed East Wake (8-8-4), Thompson scored twice. Those goals came on his header off a corner kick and after receiving the ball on a throw-in.
So despite what’s largely defensive responsibilities, he has chipped in at both ends. Thompson has posted nine goals and two assists this season.
Hernandez and Max Sommer had the other Williams goals in the East Wake game. Tyler Lagana was credited with three assists and Angel Granados had one assist. Goalkeeper Ian Kirk made two saves for the shutout.
Having senior Robert Henry alongside Thompson is another perk for the Bulldogs’ defense. Krist said Thompson, 17, rates as the best defender he has coached at Williams.
“There are a lot of former players still living here in Alamance County and they’re going to see that and come at me about it,” Krist said. “I’m going to say it is what it is.”
Here’s how other area teams fared in Monday’s first round:
Western Alamance 2, Northern Nash 0: At Elon, the defending state champion Warriors opened the Class 3-A East Region playoffs with a home victory behind two goals from Noah Barrett.
One of Barrett’s goals came on a penalty kick and the other was aided by Jacob Carignan’s assist. Eamon Hipps made nine saves for the shutout of 20th-seeded Northern Nash (10-6-1).
No. 13 seed Western (15-4-2) visits fourth-seeded Croatan in the second round.
Croatan (13-4-2) rolled 9-2 past visiting Eastern Alamance (9-9), the No. 29 seed.
Spring Creek 5, Graham 2: In Class 2-A East Region at Seven Springs, fifth-seeded Spring Creek ousted No. 28 seed Graham (6-8-4), which had been unbeaten in its four previous games.
River Mill 11, Excelsior Classical 2: In Class 1-A East Region, the host Jaguars rolled against a winless team. Next for fourth-seeded River Mill (17-5-1), which is the Central Tar Heel 1-A Conference champion, is Thursday’s home game vs. No. 13 seed North Duplin.
Southside 9, Clover Garden 0: In Class 1-A East Region at Chocowinity, fifth-seeded Southside was too much for No. 28 seed Clover Garden (3-15-1).