APEX — Apex’s soccer players have an odd way to get ready for the start of the playoffs. One of the Cougars’ traditions is to go out and get their heads shaved prior to the first postseason match.
And so they took the field Tuesday with all sorts of distinctly-shaven looks – a balding pattern with hair only around the back, a sole ponytail and even a set of earmuffs shaved into one player’s head.
Some players have a “game face.” Apex had its “game hair.”
Whether there’s any causation or correlation, Apex (18-4-1) won’t regret their hairstyles for at least another round after smothering visiting Leesville Road (12-11) by the 5-1 score in Tuesday’s first round of the 4A boys’ soccer playoffs.
“It’s just a tradition for us that was passed down from our seniors and it was passed down from their seniors,” said senior Austin Brackfield, whose hair was shaved on either side of his head. “It’s just a tension reliever and helps us out to get some of those nerves out. But when we step on the field, it’s strictly business.”
The Cougars, now winners of their last 10 contests, wasted no time in getting things going offensively. A goal in the 8th minute by Brett Eckmeder put the Cougars on top early. Eckmeder scored on a one-timer from Matt Bailey that snuck just past the Leesville keeper’s fingertips.
“Scoring that first goal really helped our guys relax, as if they weren’t relaxed enough with those haircuts,” said Apex coach Kevin Todd. “The significance of going up a goal can’t be overstated in a playoff game. Going up two goals just eases any bit of tension they had and they just kept going from there.”
Seven minutes later, Brackfield wove through three defenders to find the back of the net.
“I thought we had a great passing effort and did a great job of being in scoring positions,” Todd said. “Since we tied to Middle Creek, we’ve been on a positive roll and have had a lot of momentum. And they continued that tonight.”
The scoring resumed just before the half as Anthony Miracola’s corner kick was controlled in front of the net by Dan McGinty in the 35th minute to give Apex a three goal advantage heading into the half.
Collin Hardee punched in two more goals in thanks to assists from Brackfield and Zach Kenney.
Re’mon Schutte saved face for the Pride in the 77th minute with a goal, but Leesville’s season would not have enough time to stage a comeback as their season ended at the hands of the Cougars.
Leesville coach Paul Dinkenor, whose team defeated Apex 1-0 in the season’s second week, believes the Cougars will be a tough out in the playoffs. Apex will play at East Chapel Hill in the second round.
“We were beaten by a much better team,” Dinkenor said. “We got the chance to play them early in the season and I can definitely see that they’ve rounded into form. They are physically stronger, bigger and faster now, and I give them a lot of credit for beating our goalies. That makes them a very tough team.”