Central Academy of Technology and Arts’ soccer star Ryan Grigston had no idea what to expect coming into his senior season. The Cougar team graduated eight starters and 12 seniors from last year’s Rocky River conference champion team and had a roster full of fresh faces with only four seniors and three returning starters.
From an outsiders’ perspective, it looked like it was going to be a long rebuilding season. But again… that’s an outsider.
The Cougars surpassed expectations this year to finish the season undefeated in the conference (10-0) after clinching their second consecutive conference title and making a run to the third round of the Class 2A state tournament.
Grigston dominated at forward and was the nucleus of the Cougars’ young team, scoring 29 goals over the course of the season and adding 14 assists.
“At the beginning of the season, we weren’t expecting to do anything at all,” he said. “I got the boys fired up for that reason – because everyone was sleeping on us. I told them that we were better than last year’s team and we believed it.”
Grigston was already a back-to-back all-conference and all-region selection, all-state member and the reigning N.C. Soccer Coaches’ Association Region 8 Player of the Year. His 29 goals set CATA’s single season goal-scoring record and, with 66 goals in his career, he set CATA’s record as the all-time leading scorer.
It was Grigston’s high expectations for himself and his team that were the driving force of the Cougars’ run, but it’s Grigston’s personal accomplishments that garnered him the title of 2013 Union County Weekly Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
Grigston wasn’t always the superstar that his impressive statistics make him out to be. If you asked him a year ago, he would’ve said his true passion was basketball, where he’s a four-year varsity veteran at CATA.
“My freshman, sophomore and junior years I just played soccer to keep in shape for basketball,” he said. “I loved it because I love sports and I’m competitive, but I wasn’t in love with it yet.
“But something clicked the summer of my junior year. I thought, ‘I have a bunch of potential. I’m going to focus on soccer, get my touch right and see what I can do.’ I never set goals my first three years, but going into my senior year I had a list of goals that I promised I would accomplish. I was determined to be the best. That’s what kept me going.”
Once Grigston realized he was capable of great things on the field, he developed into arguably the best soccer player to ever come through CATA. Coach Jay Niessner, who just wrapped up his fifth year coaching at CATA and 10th overall, has seen Grigston’s transformation firsthand.
“He became one of the best players I’ve ever coached in 10 years,” Niessner said. “I wouldn’t have said that a year ago. He worked all summer long. He was driven, focused and he’s one of the top five players, boys or girls, I’ve ever coached. He went from a person who was athletic and could score goals as a freshman, sophomore and junior to someone who could play the game of soccer as a senior.”
Grigston hopes the recent success of his CATA soccer squad starts transforming the reputation of Cougar athletics as a whole.
“I go to a school that isn’t the most popular in athletics,” Grigston said. “But I’m always out to prove that CATA can compete with anybody. I don’t like getting talked about as if we aren’t competitive. But now, everything is starting to come together around here. We’re trying to make a name for this school in athletics because it doesn’t have one.
“We’ve got some of the best athletes in the county and our teams are starting to come behind them.”