The senior goalkeeper for the Freedom Patriots was pivotal to the team's ability to survive a brutal district tournament.
ORLANDO The Freedom boys soccer team shut out all three of its opponents in the district tournament last week, with senior goalie — and Observer Preps Athlete of the Week — Connor Smallwood leading the charge on defense.
Smallwood came up particularly big in the district semifinals against Oak Ridge, a match that went to penalty kicks. There, with a playoff berth on the line, Smallwood successfully defended two penalty kicks, helping the Patriots to a 4-3 win in penalty kicks.
"Penalty kicks are fun for me, as a goalkeeper, because that's pretty much the only time a goalkeeper can be the hero," Smallwood said. "There's no pressure on me to save them. It's all a mental game and if you can beat them, mentally, you can beat them physically."
Freedom coach Mark Higdon said Smallwood has been a reliable leader for his team all season long. In addition to not allowing a goal during the district tournament, Smallwood — one of the team's captains — gave a pep talk to his teammates at halftime of this week's regional quarterfinal match against Strawberry Crest. The Patriots rallied from a 1-0 deficit to score a 2-1 win and advance to Saturday's regional semifinal.
"He's the spark we needed," Higdon said. "He's been doing that all year."
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].