Rock Lions repeat as soccer state champs

Published 8:22 pm Monday, November 7, 2022

Experience, character, teamwork and the next-level ability of senior forward D.J. Dillon helped power one of the best-ever Rock Church School soccer teams to the program’s second consecutive 1A Mid-Atlantic Christian Athletic Association state championship.

The Rock Lions also repeated as winners of the state tournament’s Christian Character Award, which is a measure of what the other teams in the association thought of how RCS carried itself.

After earning a bye to the state semifinals and winning the two games that remained by seven goals apiece, the Lions finished the season with a perfect 16-0 record.

“We were a dominant team this year,” RCS Head Coach Danny Dillon said. “This is one of the best Rock teams — I would say top three — in our 40-year history.”

In the state semifinals on Oct. 14, the Lions faced a Victory Christian School team they had twice defeated during the regular season and emerged with another win, this time by an 8-1 score.

D.J. Dillon scored three goals and also had three assists. Senior Cole Butler scored twice, and one goal each came from senior Seth Woodward, sophomore Miles Dawkins and freshman Levi Dawkins.

Eighth-grader Rylan Holloman recorded four saves in goal for Rock Church.

Coach Dillon said the deciding factor in the game was Rock’s ball control, “the ability for our guys to move the ball around and basically possess, and that’s what we’ve been trying to teach and do all year.”

He also noted that RCS did not simply depend completely on D.J. that game.

“We were the better team,” the coach said.

The Rock Lions faced Mount Calvary Christian Academy, of Hookerton, North Carolina, in the 1A MACAA state championship game Oct. 15. 

The Lions went up 3-0 after the first half and pulled away in the second half to clinch the title with a 7-0 victory.

“In that one, I do believe we relied a lot on D.J. to create not only for himself but for others,” Coach Dillon said. 

D.J. Dillon scored four goals to go with one assist.

“D.J.’s one of the best players in the state, and he really shined that day,” Coach Dillon said. “Their defense, obviously it held up pretty good in the first half to keep us 3-0, but in the end, we’re just a little bit too much for them and mainly because we went to our go-to player in D.J.”

Freshman Dedrick Blowe scored twice for RCS, and Levi Dawkins also contributed a goal. 

Coach Dillon gave insight into why he characterized this Lions team as one of the very best in school history.

“We have five seniors this year that have all come through Franklin Fire travel league,” he said. “Some of them have been playing 10 years, and it’s a soccer club that we created with Coach Jamie Weist and Coach Will Councill because we just didn’t want to travel to these other big cities and take our kids back and forth. We just asked if we could create one here in Franklin, and so we saw the benefit of that. All four of my sons have played for Franklin Fire. We have it right there at the Rock Church. So these five seniors have all been playing, and it showed.”

The five seniors include Luke Blythe, Butler, D.J. Dillon, Kaleb Doering and Woodward.

“Even our younger kids are playing in (the Franklin Fire travel league), our ninth and 10th graders are playing in it, so we’re trying to create a culture of soccer at Rock Church School and in our community, and so those things really mattered,” Coach Dillon said.

He estimated that the Rock Lions are good enough that they would be able to hold their own if they played in the Virginia High School League’s Class 1 public school field of competition, which includes Franklin High School.

D.J.’s older brother, Jack Dillon, also played travel ball, and because their father, Coach Dillon, did not want to have to coach two different teams, D.J. ended up playing at levels two years beyond his age for his whole life. 

“It made him better,” Coach Dillon said. “Not only travel made him better, but playing against the older kids made him better.”

Reflecting on what it meant to earn another state title, D.J. Dillon said, “I feel great about winning a championship, and to go back-to-back state champions for my junior and senior year is pretty awesome. We had a strong team the last two years, and I have really enjoyed going through this with my teammates. I’m just so blessed to be able to play for my dad, at my grandfather’s school and with my brother. But most importantly I want to thank God for giving me this ability; without Him none of this is possible.”

Coach Dillon took a moment to highlight the significance of his team also winning the Christian Character Award for the state tourney.

“It’s only the second time in the last 15 years that a championship team won both the state and the Christian Character Award, and we got it last year as well,” he said. “Typically you can give the Christian Character Award to the team that maybe takes a lump and has a good attitude about it, but I’m just so proud of our guys that they’re not cocky, they’re not arrogant, they don’t talk trash, they don’t question the ref. We look to encourage the opponents, we look to encourage the refs. In the end, we understand that it’s only a soccer game, and that it really is all about God. And so we instill that in our boys, and God honored them with not only winning the championship but also honored their character.”

The coach made a point to thank all the parents at Rock Church School “for entrusting us with their sons.”

He added, “I want to thank Rock Church for allowing me to coach as a part of our ministry for the next generation. Finally, thanks to our incredible community that loves and supports our kids; we could not have done this without them.”