Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
WHEELERSBURG — Once in a lifetime. That’s the type of player that Aaron Jolly is.
There’s many other adjectives that could describe Jolly, and we’ll get to those. But in an overall sense, athletes like Jolly don’t come around too often.
If you were lucky enough to watch him play, you know that all too well.
Jolly was the lifeblood of Wheelersburg’s offense, whether he was scoring himself or dishing to a teammate. His knack for finding the back of the goal was simply special.
But that skill didn’t just appear out of thin air. Jolly put in the necessary work to get there.
“The main key would be a mixture of the offseason and the teammates around me. Going into the season, I tried my best to put in the work needed for the team to succeed,” Jolly said. “Spending as much time as possible at the field truly paid off in the end. When the first scrimmages began, I could also tell that others put in that work also.”
Individually, Jolly scored 48 goals and passed out 21 assists as a senior — surpassing the 100-career goal mark in the process and setting a new program record for career goals.
That’s why he’s SOSA’s co-Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
“I couldn’t have put up nearly the same amount of goals without the guys beside me. Jacob, Lane, Max, Jackson, Braxton, Nathan, and Chris all played a vital role in the production of our offense this year,” Jolly said. “Having Braxton decide to play this year and Max starting as a freshman truly helped separate this year’s team from last year’s. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of teammates alongside me.”
While Jolly was named the SOC and Division III District Player of the Year, and collecting yet another sure All-Ohio nod, his teammates rallied around their star forward.
Together, they put the finishing touches on a perfect 16-0 regular season that included the program’s third straight conference title. Then, the Pirates ripped off four straight tournament wins over Piketon, Valley, North Adams and Lynchburg-Clay to claim a spot in a regional final.
That’s where they made history, improving to 21-0 with a 2-1 win over Grandview Heights — a victory that clinched the program’s first-ever regional championship and state semifinal berth.
They were the first SOC team to reach the Final Four since Valley did so in 1998.
“It’s a great feeling. It’s been a long road from losing in the sectional semifinals my freshman year to winning regionals my senior year,” Jolly said. “The years in between we came up short from even winning a district championship, and I feel those losses certainly helped prepare us for this year. The feeling of defeat year after year isn’t great, and that’s why making history this year was so special.”
If there’s one game during this year’s 21-game win streak, or in the past four years, that Jolly could replay, it’d be the regional final. While he didn’t score in the match, Grandview Heights’ attention was centered on Jolly, which opened scoring lanes for teammate Braxton Sammons.
Sammons scored both goals and the Pirates went home a winner.
“Just to look up and see a whole town supporting us, in probably the biggest game of my life, was extraordinary,” Jolly said. “The support we received from everybody was amazing, and to come out with a win on the biggest stage of my career has to top the all-time list.”
Wheelersburg’s season eventually came to an end in a Division III state semifinal with a loss to Cincinnati Mariemont. But that didn’t come before Jolly was able to score 118 career goals and help the Pirates outscore their opponents by a 115-13 margin.
“I hope the younger guys realize they are never too far from their goals, and if I can reach mine, they can too. It all comes down to the preparation and work put in when no one is watching. I hope that I was able to convey that over the past four years,” Jolly said. “When it comes down to it, I think of the last four years as a rollercoaster. There have been so many ups and downs, and it helped me to never feel satisfied. Passion would be the one thing I hope people would remember me for. Being able to step out on the field and give everything I have for the guys beside me is something I’ve strived for.”
Next on the agenda for Jolly? He plans to attend Mount Vernon Nazarene University, where he’ll join the Cougars’ soccer program. If his collegiate career goes anything like this high school years, MVNU is getting a steal.
“I’d just like to say how much I’ve appreciated the coaching staff over the past four years,” Jolly said. “They have made a large impact on the team as a whole, and have devoted much time into the program. Without them, none of this would have been possible.”