Jerry Graham didn’t need a crash course on his roster when he took over the Greeneville girls’ soccer program last spring.
Graham, who finished his 10th season as the Greeneville boys’ coach in the spring, doubled as an assistant with the girls’ team under longtime coach John Eiskamp, who announced his retirement in January.
Greeneville’s administration didn’t look far for Eiskamp’s replacement.
And Graham didn’t hesitate after spending eight years as an assistant with the girls.
“I was already coaching boys’ and girls’ soccer, just not in the head coaching role with the girls,” Graham said. “The time commitment was there, and when coach Eiskamp retired, I looked at it as an opportunity. He left the program in exceptional condition with a lot of starters returning. I already had the time commitment. I had a daughter (Emily) that was going to be a senior on the team, and on top of that, I started coaching some of these girls in club level with our five seniors when they were U-8s on the club circuit. The team meant a lot to me and I didn’t want to give it up, and I was excited about taking it on.”
It turned into a special year for Greeneville soccer.
After coaching the Greene Devils to their third consecutive Class AA state title last spring, Graham coached the Lady Greene Devils (19-7) to the state championship this fall.
Greeneville’s girls also won state in 2015 and 2016 and were state runners-up in 2017.
Graham, the 2019 5Star Preps Girls Coach of the Year, doesn’t take this year’s two state titles for granted.
“We’re just ecstatic about it,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words. I still don’t think it’s sunk in. When you sit back and look at it, you’re just proud of the kids and the rest of the coaching staff on what we’ve been able to accomplish. Every state championship is just unique and special in its own way just because of the work that each of the kids put into it to make it a possibility.”
Graham, who teaches sixth-grade science at Greeneville Middle School, was a goalkeeper at Greeneville High, where he graduated in 1992, before playing club soccer at East Tennessee State University. He got his education degree at ETSU and his master’s degree at Tusculum.
Graham began coaching soccer at Greeneville in 2000 with Eiskamp and has been a science teacher at the middle school for 20 years.
Soccer is dear to his heart.
“I really, really love the sport, the beauty of the game,” Graham said. “It’s been a passion.”
Graham took over a seasoned girls’ team this fall.
The five seniors had plenty of playoff experience.
“This group of seniors was special in the fact that they were down there their freshman year and they won a state championship under John Eiskamp,” Graham said. “The next year they lost in the state championship by one goal and that hurt, and last year we lost in the state (semifinals) to eventual state champion Beech.”
This year, the Lady Greene Devils prepared for the postseason with a demanding regular-season schedule.
Their losses came to four Class AAA teams (Bearden, Hardin Valley Academy, Science Hill, and Maryville); two to Division II-AA teams (Father Ryan and Girls Preparatory School); and one to an out-of-state team (Sacred Heart, Ky.).
“We’ve got losses,” Graham said, “but I’ll be honest, I think those seven losses on our record probably did more for us to turn us into state champions than a lot of those regular-season wins did.”
Greeneville finished the 2019 season with an eight-match winning streak, capped by a 2-1 victory over Nolensville in the state championship match.
It was a perfect ending for the five seniors: Kenly Wilhoit, Emily Shaw, Emily Graham, Sydney Finchum, Ivey Runion.
“I think that group of seniors, getting to see what it felt like to win a state championship and then getting to the tournament and getting put out, I think it gave us a little bit of the intangibles to go down there and show what they’re made of this year and get that state championship back,” Graham said. “They just made up their minds and set that as one of their goals, to get back there and win another state championship, and they did that.”