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FRIDAY, JUNE 29, 2007
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Morgan team a force in Festival
Expectations high in state soccer games

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

FLORETTE —What happens when you combine some of the best soccer players from Brewer High, Decatur High, Austin High and Hartselle High?

You get a pretty good soccer team.

For the past four years, Joel Sowder has coached a team made up of players from nearly every Morgan County soccer-playing school in the Alabama Sports Festival.

And in each of the past four years, the team has placed. In 2003, the first year the team came together, it placed third out of eight teams. In '04, the team took first. It took second in '05, then won the tournament in the U-16 bracket a year ago.

Expectations, therefore, are high for this year's Sports Fest, taking place this weekend in Birmingham.

"We expect to win," said Raul Alanis, a forward who plays for Decatur during the high school season.

"We have good players and each of us have gotten better over the years."

The question, then, is how the team comes together in such a short period of time to do so well.

Sowder, whose son Kohl also plays on the team, seems to have a grasp on why a group of players who are normally foes play great.

"They're real open and not alienating of anyone," Joel Sowder said.

The team has practiced only a few times during this past month. And Monday, it played a team from Cullman and won 8-1.

"Most of them are my friends already," Alanis said. "It's good to play with all the players from other schools."

Then again, that means Alanis, along with Clay Strickland, who also plays at Decatur, has to hear about losing in the Class 5A soccer playoffs to Brewer, which has 10 players on the team.

The Patriots also beat Decatur for the championship of the Morgan County soccer tournament.

"We give him a hard time," Kohl Sowder said. "We always wear (at practice) our champion shirts we got."

He added, "There's not much he can say."

Despite the ribbing the Decatur players get from the Brewer guys, there are no hard feelings. Playing together only can help everyone get better.

"They're getting to play with a caliber of player you don't get on a high school team," Joel Sowder said.

"It's more of a club environment."

The team will play three games for sure — two Saturday and one Sunday morning. Should the team finish in the top two of its group, it'll play a second game Sunday. A first-place group finish will allow the team to defend its title, sort of.

Sowder's group moves into the U-19 bracket this year, meaning it's the youngest of the bunch.

That's the one thing that worries the coach.

"The intimidation factor is something we're going to have to overcome," Sowder said.

Said Kohl: "There's a lot more tough teams, I guess because we're moving up an age group. A team out of Cullman and a team out of Decatur should be real good."

He sat and thought for a second before adding one more thing: "We expect to win it."

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