Keeper scoops up collegiate opportunity


Jacob Turner , Sports Editor

Having to choose between playing for your high school and playing for another team is a decision that most people never have to make. However, for senior Ryan Cretens, this decision was a reality.
Cretens played on the boys’ soccer team as a freshman and sophomore and was the starting goalie both years. After his sophomore season, Cretens tried out for the Capital Area Soccer League’s (CASL) Academy team and made it. By making the team, Cretens was no longer allowed to represent our school on the soccer field.
“I miss the camaraderie with everybody on the high school squad,” Cretens said. “I enjoyed being a part of that just because it’s a lot more fun, but Academy is a lot more serious. It’s a totally different level.”
Cretens’ team, The Capital Area Railhawks, is a part of the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. The Academy was created in 2007 to help develop the top youth soccer players around the country.
“The best of the best come and try out for the Academy, and whoever makes it is considered the top level players at CASL and in the U.S. It was a big accomplishment for me,” Cretens said.
Cretens went into the tryout knowing that if he made it, he would not be able to play high school soccer anymore. The rule is not only enforced by CASL, but is a nationwide rule for all Academy teams.
“When an opportunity presents itself, you have to take it, and I did that,” Cretens said. “I did enjoy playing for our school, but sometimes you have to part ways and do what’s best for you.”
CASL offers Academy teams at the U13/14, U15/16 and U17/18 levels. Cretens played on a team that was two levels below the Academy system when he tried out and made the U15/16 Academy team in 2012.
“When I first got on the academy team, everyone was like “Who is this kid?” I had to showcase my skills and prove myself all over again,” Cretens said.
Cretens’ Academy coach, John Bradford, was full of praise for his goalie.
“On the field he values his opportunities, competes daily to make the most of them and wants to improve his teammates and the team as much as he does himself,” Bradford said. “Off the field, Ryan is humble and gracious. He has his priorities in order.”
Boys’ soccer coach Jeremiah Mattingly was also quick to praise Cretens on and off the field.
“He is an excellent kid,” Mattingly said. “Not many freshmen goalies can start in the Cap-8 conference.”
By CASL establishing the Academy program, some of the top talent around the area have made the team and are no longer allowed to represent their high school. Nevertheless, Mattingly still believes that high school soccer is full of gifted players.
“Well, obviously, the level of play has dropped a little bit,” Mattingly said. “But it’s given more opportunities for other talented players to get scholarships because kids will be getting looked at by colleges a little bit more. And it also gives high school players the opportunity to play and compete more at the highest level.”
Bradford also believes high school soccer is still a positive thing for players to experience.
“I think that there are several high school programs that have quality players, quality coaching, and there can be a definite benefit to players at these places,” Bradford said. “Personally, I had a great high school soccer experience, and it helped define me as a player and as a young adult.”
More specifically, the Cap-8 conference has lost a lot of players to the academy system over the past few years.
“I think it has hurt the Cap-8 a little more than any other conference because there were so many Academy players,” Mattingly said. “But you still see a team like Sanderson that makes it to the finals this year even though they lost some of their best players to the Academy.”
The Academy system is also full of positives for its players as well. College coaches and recruiters attend most games, and the teams travel to showcases around the country, which regularly attract hundreds of college coaches.
“For our Academy, the benefits to being recruited and playing at the next level are very clear,” Bradford said. “The vast majority of college coaches begin their recruiting within the Academy level of play, and we have multiple college coaches and Carolina Rail Hawks professional coaches on staff that interact with the kids in a daily environment.”
While the Academy has many benefits, the rewards don’t come without a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Cretens’ free time is limited, with practices four days a week and games on the weekends.
“Typical practices are about two and a half hours long, but I have had up to four hour practices,” Cretens said.
After an official visit in January of 2014, Cretens verbally committed to play at The University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The Academy has helped Cretens reach his “dream” of playing college soccer.
“The connections that the Academy has are awesome, and I think that’s great because we get to show ourselves to top level schools. It’s a blessing,” Cretens said.
Cretens is looking forward to the future and continuing his career at the next level.
“It’s always been my dream to play Division I soccer,” Cretens said. “And if the opportunity to play professional soccer comes after my four years are up, by
all means I’ll scoop that opportunity up.”