All offseason long following a season that wasn’t, Massaponax coach Randall Pierce fielded a steady stream of questions from his soccer-starved charges.
When’s pickup (games) going to start? When do we start training? How about conditioning?
Just as frequent, however, were queries regarding the status of standout Godfrey Abel. Had the Panthers been able to take the pitch in 2020, Abel wouldn’t have been among them. His Richmond-based travel team, Virginia Development Academy, doesn’t allow players to participate with their high school teams.
“They knew how much better our team would be with him,” Pierce said. “And I think they knew personality-wise what he’d bring to the team chemistry. Just having Godfrey really puts you over the top.”
When high school soccer returned from its pandemic hiatus this past spring, so did Abel. The Christopher Newport-bound striker led Massaponax to an unbeaten regular season and unofficial Commonwealth District championship. The Free Lance–Star player of the year racked up a team-high eight goals in just 11 games.
“We don’t have the same season if we don’t have Godfrey on the team,” offered senior Carson Pugh.
In retrospect, it was an easy decision and one set in motion nearly two years earlier.
“I knew the potential we had,” Abel said. “Ever since our sophomore year when we won the regional title and all the sophomores we had on that team and all that potential, I just couldn’t wait for senior year.”
This past season, Pierce substituted Abel more frequently—partially to give him a breather and partially so the team learned how to function without his commanding presence. Each time he summoned Abel to the sideline, he watched his face drop in disappointment.
Just as telling were the expressions of the opposing defenders.
“You could just kind of see them exhale,” Pierce said. “You could see a sense of relief coming over their face, like ‘We get a break now.’ That right there told him how important and how dynamic of a game changer he was.”
Abel opened his final campaign in midseason form. He netted the winning goal in a season-opening, overtime victory over Stafford, then followed it up the next night with an acrobatic equalizer in the waning moments of a 1–1 draw against North Stafford.
After trailing for most of the game, the Panthers earned a free kick with eight seconds left. As Massaponax’s Trevor Bottomley prepared to take it, Pierce issued succinct advice: “Trevor, put it in the box, and let Godfrey go get it.”
Bottomley obediently sent a ball in, and Abel redirected it past the charging keeper with a deft flick of his head.
You would’ve thought we won the state championship,” Pierce said.
For all of Abel’s offensive contributions, Pugh recalled an instance in which he still managed to impact the team’s play while hobbled. Abel exited in the first half of Massaponax’s regional quarterfinal match against John Champe with an ankle injury.
When it became clear he couldn’t return, he pulled aside Pugh, a midfielder. Whatever was said, it motivated Pugh to notch the winning assist in Massaponax’s four-overtime victory.
“That was a really big moment, because even when he was hurt, he was still trying to cheer us on from the sidelines,” Pugh said. “Still trying to do his part.