By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — There are senior nights and then there’s what’s going on at Norman North tonight where the fifth-ranked and District 6A-2 champion Timberwolves play host to Putnam City.
Because sometimes there’s just one, two or three seniors. And sometimes the only real legacy is one of sticking it out despite little reward, which may say grand things about character but something close to the opposite about competitive success.
Almost always senior nights are fun and sweet, yet not necessarily of great consequence.
The North boys suffer none of these reservations. For starters, literally, there are 11 of them, and when coach Geo Claros rolls out his lineup tonight, here’s who’ll be in it: Ashton Bray, Matt Gann, Garrett Gibbs, Cory Graubenbaur, Ryan Johnson, Trent Laffoon, Curtis McRae, Luke Moore, Jonathan Newton, Alex Spens and Daniel Taylor, seniors all.
It’s a funny thing.
They’ve known each other forever, played on many of the same teams forever, have been close forever, but tonight’s probably the first time all 11 will share the same field at the same time against a collective foe.
“There’s going to be a whole lot of emotion,” said McRae, who along with Bray is headed to Central Arkansas to play college soccer. “We’ve known each other growing up, we’ve all gone to school together. It’s going to be a fun one, that’s for sure, all of us on the same field.”
For the most part, it goes back to fifth grade, when soccer first became competitive. All but Bray and Spens play their club soccer in the NYSA’s Celtic program, but that just means they’ve not only played together, but also against each other through the years.
After four years in the same program, there’s not much daylight between them.
“We’ve all pretty much been together since Day 1,” Bray said.
They’ve compiled quite the resume´.
Comparatively, this may actually be the down year. It’s been well chronicled, that North has lost three times this season, even twice in the state of Oklahoma and once, yegads, to Crosstown Clash rival Norman High.
Also, the T-Wolves are 9-3 with every loss coming in a shootout, have already secured another district championship and have outscored their six district opponents 28-4 with tonight’s game still to play.
Many, if they had to choose a Class 6A state champion before the playoffs begin, would still pick the T-Wolves.
Then there’s the state championship they claimed last season, the mythical national championship granted by ESPN’s Rise Fab 50 poll that came along with it, another state championship claimed their freshmen season and a trip to the semifinals in between.
“Being part of two state championships is huge. They have an opportunity this year to be part of a third,” Claros said. “They’re going to be a huge part of Norman North soccer tradition … The other two state championships the program’s won were in a four-year span, too [2000 and 2003], so they’re going to be right there with that group.”
Plenty good to begin with, intangibles have been a big part of their story.
“We haven’t always been the most skilled,” said Laffoon, who will join his brother, Trevor, at Oral Roberts’ soccer program next fall. “We’ve been told that by the coaches we’ve had, even in Celtic, but a lot of the things they’ve liked is we work hard. We’ve always been able to put the work in.”
Tonight is many things.
There’s the ceremony, and with 11 seniors it’s going to take a while.
The game counts, too. The T-Wolves want to be sharp heading into the postseason. Still, even with another Class 6A championship to pursue, there’s no getting away from the reminder senior night provides. Though nobody may play deeper into May as North, the end of the seniors’ run together is nearing an end.
“I never thought this moment would ever come,” Gann said.
Mostly because, in the middle of it, it seems like it will last forever. It won’t, but the memories are easy to imagine.
“The legacy is amazing. The run we made last year was phenomenal, going 17-0,” Gann said. “We’ve had a couple of trip-ups this year, but we have to get over that. We have to go into the playoffs with a good attitude and I really believe we can go on another run this year.”
Lately, the T-Wolves have played like they will.
“They’re great kids,” Claros said, “that have had a lot of success and have worked and have gotten better.”
It’s not over, but tonight should be some kind of send-off.
Follow me @clayhorning
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