BY TATE RUSSELL
SUN SPORTS WRITER
GREENEVILLE - The three-pronged offensive attack that the Greeneville High School soccer team utilized this past season frustrated opponents and allowed the Devils to win their fourth straight region title and advance to the state tournament for the third consecutive year.
Tuesday morning, the team's three offensive leaders - forwards Drew Fezell and Hays Culbreath, as well as center attacking midfielder Martin Djikanovic - were named to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association's Class A/AA All-State Team.
In addition to those three, senior captain D.J. Patterson was named All-State as a defender.
"It makes me really proud to have four guys from our program make the All-State team, and it shows how far we've come as a program," Greeeneville coach Jerry Graham said.
"Coach Michael Connell and I are very proud of these kids. All of the success they have had is a tribute to their hard work and how much time they've put into it. They've given us a tremendous amount of leadership this year and are all very deserving."
The three attackers played well off of each other and consistently kept defenders guessing. Although any of the three could put the team on their shoulders and single-handedly take over the scoring duties themselves, they never did so.
"Having scorers like that gave us so much diversity in our offense," Graham said. "If you just have one primary attacker, it's hard because all the other team has to do is mark him, where as we had three guys up there who could score. That's just hard to defend. Team's just can't mark all three of those guys."
"That three-headed monster in there takes up so much attention from the defense. Even if they are defended, it leaves the other guys open."
Fezell maybe best exemplified the unselfish nature of the front three. The senior captain was usually one of the most skilled scorers on the field and could have named the number of goals he wanted to score, but instead, his head was always on a swivel looking for his team's best shot.
In doing so, he tallied 14 assists to go with his 19 goals and earned All-State honors for the second time. Fezell was named the Region 1-A/AA Player of the Year.
"It's extremely important to have a player at that role, that plays at his level, that's so unselfish," Graham said. "He could have made it a personal goal to score as many goals as he wanted to but he was unselfish and just wanted to go out there and play good soccer.
"In my eyes, a good assist is a lot more beautiful and more important than the finish a lot of times, and Drew took a lot of pride in creating those opportunities, and he did it very well."
Fezell's counterpart in the forward third, Hays Culbreth, also earned All-State honors for the second time. The speedster will enter his senior season as one of the most decorated players in the state.
This past season he scored an impressive 30 goals while assisting on nine others. He was named the Region's Offensive Player of the Year."
"As far as I know, I think he's the first player ever here to go into his senior season as a two time All-State player," Graham said. "Hays, he's got fantastic speed, and with that he allows us as a team to stretch the field. His runs have gotten progressively better and now his runs up the field are just impeccable. Then he improved his finishing ability as well and scored 30 goals this year."
Greeneville picked up the piece that perfected its attack in the offseason by adding Djikanovic, a Montenegrin exchange student. Djikanovic looked like a natural scorer after moving from the backline where he played with his Balkan Club. He scored 22 goals while also picking up nine assists this year.
"Martin came in and filled a big role for us, and it was a need for us in the midfield too," Graham said. "It's great to be able to bring in somebody of his caliber. He was a defender in Montenegro but he was able to come in and play the midfield for us, simply because his technical skills were that good."
In total, the attacking trio was responsible for 61 of the Devils' 89 goals last season.
Greeneville's defense only allowed 28 goals last season in large part due to Patterson. He led the veteran unit and made sure switches went seamlessly and marking was spot on.
Graham feels Patterson, who was the Region Defensive Player of the Year, was very deserving of the award, but that the honor was also a testament to how well the entire defensive unit played.
"D.J. was kind of the cornerstone of our defense," Graham said. "He's such a smooth player with great speed. I can always count on him to be calm and collected back there. No matter what the situation was, he could always organize the defense."
Greeneville ended the 2013 season with a 13-4-4 overall record. The Devils lost to Kingsbury in the first round of the state tournament for the third straight year.