Home-schooled players lead Covenant soccer

The Covenant Classical School soccer team has made an odd dynamic work again this season.

The small Concord private school doesn't have the numbers to field a full team, so it again opened spots to area home-schooled students.

Even though only three Covenant students are on its 17-player roster, the team has come together and gotten off to a strong 7-1 start against a diverse slate of teams.

Junior defender Joel Pinckney, a Harrisburg home-schooled student who's played with Covenant since he was in seventh grade, said the team has to find a way to rebuild year after year.

"We weren't sure at the start of the season how it was going to pan out," said Pinckney. "But we've really developed as a team and built a lot of chemistry."

Covenant Classical coach Gary Laudermilk got involved with the program when his home-schooled son, Cooper, joined the soccer team three years ago. Despite the dynamics, he said, his players are comfortable together.

"They've known each other for a while, playing here and club ball," said Laudermilk, who approaches club players who he knows are homeschooled to join the team each season. Senior forward John Clay, who started playing with Covenant Classical after eighth grade, said he and his teammates have gotten used to seeing new faces on the team each season.

"We're very welcoming guys, so when somebody new comes we embrace them," he said.

Laudermilk said it's that attitude and the play of Pinckey and Clay that are allowing Covenant to succeed on the soccer field.

The coach said Pinckney, a center back, solidifies the team's defense.

"He's the guy who sets the tone for us," said Laudermilk, explaining Pinckney's ability in the air is the best on the team. "Heading is definitely his thing."

Because of that, the 5-foot-7 Pinckney is a threat on corner kicks, but his biggest contribution to the team may be his leadership.

"I try to be kind of a calming influence," said the team captain, explaining that he often talks to his teammates and referees to defuse tension during games.

Meanwhile, the physical Clay leads the team up front with his speed and goal-scoring ability.

"His ability to put it on frame is unbelievable," said Laudermilk.

Clay said having to do 100 pushups each time he shoots over the post has made him a better shooter. He led the team with 11 goals, including four against Carolina Christian, through the team's first seven games.

"I'm not forcing myself to the ball, but when I get it, I try to make the play," said the 17-year-old Landis resident.

Laudermilk said his team's success has also had a lot to do with his players' versatility, which allows them to switch positions during games to catch their breaths.

"That's huge," he said. "When you're hurting for numbers, which we are most of the time, that helps out a lot."

Clay, Pinckney and Covenant Classical got a big win against Concord High, defeating the public school 3-2 last month.

Although the Spiders are having a down year, Laudermilk said that game was huge for the program.

"That was the game that boosted our confidence," said Laudermilk. "It made me as a coach want to call Myers Park, call Ardrey Kell, call them all and say 'Let's play.' "

Pinckney said defeating Concord has been the highlight of the team's season. Playing a weak schedule the rest of the way, he said, the team shouldn't lose another game.

He hopes Covenant Classical is able to schedule more public school teams in the future.

"I think we could beat more of them," said Pinckney.

With considerable club soccer experience on the team, Laudermilk thinks his team is capable of doing just that.

"They can play just about with anybody," he said.