HARRISBURG, Pa. – Former Lipscomb men’s soccer player Garret Pettis represented his alma mater on national stage over the weekend when his current team, the Harrisburg City Islanders, played in the United Soccer League Pro Championship Saturday night in Sacramento, California in front of a sold out crowd at Boney Field.
“It was an unreal moment,” Pettis said. “Those are the types of moments you play for because after putting in all of the hours of hard work, you want to play in games that matter.
“It was a complete sellout of 8,000 fans and the environment was one of the best I have ever seen. It was a raucous crowd and during the first half you could literally feel the stadium shaking. I am just so proud I got to experience something like that.”
The City Islanders made an improbable run to reach the championship game.
Pettis’ squad started the season 1-4-1 before things started clicking and the team strung together a few wins to push the Islanders into the playoff hunt late in the season.
Needing a win in the regular-season finale to lock up a postseason invitation, the Islanders went on the road and knocked off Charlotte 4-2 to secure a date with the top-seeded Orlando City, who finished the season 19-4-5 and won the regular season crown for the third time in four seasons, in the first round.
“Once we strung together a couple of wins, it started to click for us,” Pettis said. “We started playing together as a team and came up with a huge win in the last game of the regular season.
“We knew it was going to be an uphill battle having to play the No. 1 seed Orlando in the first round, but we were confident knowing we had already beaten them earlier in the season.”
The Islanders knocked off Orlando City 3-2 in August.
Harrisburg was on a mission and knocked off City once again (1-0) to advance to the semifinals to face No. 4 seeded Richmond. The Islanders continued its hot streak taking down Richmond 3-2 on the road to advance to the championship game for just the second time in the Islanders history.
“We just had the fight and mental fortitude to go in there and also to Richmond, who had only lost once at home all season, and get the results,” Pettis said.
Sacramento Republic FC, in its inagural season in the UCL Pro Division, dashed any hope the Islanders had of securing the first-ever championship for the city of Harrisburg after shutting out the Islanders 2-0 to win the title.
“Obviously it was tough losing in the end, but if you look at the way we started the season, you never would have thought we would have made it that far,” Pettis said. “We just had a self-belief as a team that if we could just make it into the playoffs, we could make a run.
Seeing action in 23 matches this season Pettis collected eight points, scoring three goals and two assists.
In his rookie season with the Islanders in 2012, Pettis showed promise scoring three goals and an assist. Harrisburg was looking for big things from Pettis in his second season, but a season-ending hip injury dashed any and all hopes in 2013.
“It was really tough to have to sit out last season,” Pettis said. “It was painful to not be around the team and have to watch them play the games without me. But I was determined to get back out there this season.”
A rigorous 14-month therapy session showed the Islanders Pettis’ work ethic and determination and they inked him to a new deal before the 2014 season.
“I put a lot of work into my therapy,” said Pettis. “It was tough in the beginning of the season, having to adjust to the pace of the game. It took me a while to get back into the flow.
“Although I got an assist in the first game, it wasn’t until later in the season before I was able to get my first goal. I felt so good to just be back after rehabbing 14 months to get back in shape. It was refreshing to be able to have some success late in the season.”
Pettis grew up in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, just 20 miles down the road from Harrisburg and he talked about what it means to be able to play in front of family and friends on a daily basis.
“It is special to come back home and playing front of my family and friends,” Pettis said. “It is great personally because I have been able to give back to the community as a coach, doing countless hours of youth clinics and training sessions.
“I have even coached ac couple of youth teams. It is great to be here and give back to everything I grew up in. You never know, I may be giving back to the next Garret Pettis one day.”
Before getting his college degree, Pettis was a standout on the pitch for Lipscomb, setting the school record with 34 career goals. He was also named Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year and a three-time All-Conference selection. He was also a three-time A-Sun offensive player of the week winner.
Since leaving Nashville Pettis has still found time to keep up with the growth of his former program and he couldn’t be more proud of what the Bisons have accomplished in the last two season and he expects much more to come in the future.
“I had a chance to go back and train with some of the guys and help as volunteer assistant down there,” Pettis said. “I have kept up with the success of the team this year and it’s awesome to see them off to the best start in program history.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them and can’t wait to see where it goes from here. Hopefully they can bring home the first conference championship and get into the NCAA tournament.”