On March 12, the Summit High School boys soccer team felt good about its future.
The team had just taken down Middle Tennessee Fire 5-1 and had gotten a few early season games in, including a 6-0 win over Columbia Academy and a close loss to Nolensville
"Everyone was pretty positive," Summit head coach Dustin Butler, also a teacher at Spring Station Middle, said. "We felt like we had a lot of momentum going into the beginning of the season.
"No one really knew that it would be 84 days before we all saw each other again."
Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic was just starting to close down athletic events and seasons when Summit's season was getting started.
It was just a day after Summit's win over Middle Tennessee Fire that Williamson County Schools would halt its athletic games for a week, then through April 3, in response to the virus. It was a continual domino effect that wound up stopping all spring sports altogether.
Summit's boys soccer team was one of countless in the area and well beyond who had to put competing together on the back burner.
"It was surreal, to say the least," Butler said. "But my guys have been pretty positive about it. When it first happened, we really didn't know what it was going to look like, or in the beginning, whether or not the season was actually over or not.
"So, for me as their coach, I was just trying to stay as positive as possible, keeping in touch with those guys, especially the seniors, trying to give them little challenges and things to do at home, trying to keep their fitness up just in case we were able to continue the season. And then, unfortunately, it was kind of pulled out from underneath us, and we were't able to finish the season."
Though, if all goes as planned, March 12 won't be the last time the 2020 Summit Spartans boys soccer team will get to play together.
The team, though unofficially, is entered in the Tennessee High School Soccer Coaches Association State Championships.
Set for a run in Gatlinburg from July 9-11, "Spartan SC," though not officially through Summit High School and the TSSAA, will join 47 fellow teams in the state in various tournament brackets to decide who wins each individual flight.
The Spartans are in Flight 3 with seven other teams and will take on Shelbyville Central in their first game July 9 at 10 a.m. at Gatlinburg's Rocky Top Sports World.
Each team is guaranteed three games total in the tournament, giving all individual groups who enter ample time to compete together once more.
Brentwood, Ravenwood, Franklin, Fairview and Grace Christian Academy are a few other local outfits entering the tournament.
"We had put so much work into the offseason with our morning workouts and our senior-led training sessions, kind of leading up to the season," Butler said. "I really felt like I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't try to find something for my guys to have a sense of closure, especially the seniors."
This tournament in particular allowed Butler a chance to give his guys just that.
The championships also give teams an opportunity to participate in a COVID-19 friendly atmosphere.
"It's pretty organized," Butler said.
Only 50 tickets for the tournament are given out to each team and spacing efforts are being taken, helping facilitate a proper atmosphere for the athletes.
"As soon as I saw it, I had to jump at the opportunity to do this for my guys because they definitely deserved it," Butler said.
The team has been conditioning for the tournament, following Williamson County School's "return to play" guidelines for competition, which call for no contact and groups of less than 10 when undergoing team activities.
"We've just been focusing on the fitness aspect, getting our guys back to where they were in March, and then the technical side of it, keeping them spread out, working on their touches, those types of things," Butler said. "Just getting them together was very important for me. They're super happy to see each other, and just kind of getting our chemistry going again was important."
Butler cites seniors Lennyn Torres and Jei Gonzalez as standouts on the 2020 team.
"[Torres has] been a huge part of our team since I took over when he was a sophomore," Butler said. "I actually had him as a student in class at the middle school...I've been able to see him grow, not only in the classroom, but also on the soccer pitch...this guy just loves the game, great work ethic."
Torres will be playing at the college level, the only from this senior class to continue soccer after graduation, at Tennessee Wesleyan.
Of Gonzalez, Butler says that he's "another great guy," and "Jei just has this great personality, always positive attitude. Pretty much would do anything for his teammates. He's kind of the epitome of what I want my players to be, for sure."
Gonzalez was the 2020 Academic All Star for Summit High School.
With the team guaranteed three games of competition, the Spartans will once again get a chance to pick right back up where they left off on March 12.
It might not look like what they expected when offseason workouts began, but as Butler said, the tournament lets the guys go out on their own terms.
"We're feeling pretty confident with the group that we landed in," Butler said of their chances in the tournament. "I wouldn't say overconfident, but we definitely have high expectations for ourselves going down there."
Above all, though, Butler sees July's chance to compete again as well-deserved for his Spartans.
"It means a lot," Butler said. "These guys have definitely put in the work, and they deserve this tournament. We all have the mindset that we're going to go down there and push each other and get the most out of the experience, regardless of the results."
Summit trying to make name in difficult 12-AAA district
The Spartans struggled last season with a losing record, but closed the 2019 campaign with a 3-0 win over Spring Hill. Butler said they have high aims for the future of the program.
"Our district is tough," Butler said. "When I took over the program three years ago...we were at the bottom, bottom two, I'd say. We've kind of made a lot of progress in trying to work our way up...we always talk about our goal is to get up into the top three.
"We've been able to beat Ravenwood, Centennial, tough teams in our district, quality opponents. So we're definitely making progress. My first year, we took Brentwood to double-overtime in the semifinal, and we were a number-6 seed going into the district tournament."
Butler said he wants his guys to grow into the progress they've made, no matter who they go against.
"My guys, they still fight through it," he said. "They understand the process, and really, what I tell them is it's time to stop making excuses about we don't have the player pool or whatever it may be. We're not going to make excuses; we're going to push as hard as we can and put ourselves in the best situation possible in order to be successful."