Western looks to defend the Mid-State 3A Soccer Crown
August 15, 2014Western Alamance High School
Story by Keith Thomas
Returning 8 starters from 2013, the Mid-State 3A conference and tournament champs are poised to defend their title under the direction of new Head Coach Bruce Shepherd. With over 35 years in coaching, Shepherd brings a wealth of soccer knowledge as well as a new excitement to the Warrior’s program. His up-tempo style of play was evident against Ragsdale High School recently as Western’s starting lineup had multiple chances to score in a scrimmage verses the 4A Tiger’s defense.
Gone are starters Josh Price, Paschal Geoffrey and Camden Brooks who look to continue their soccer skills at area colleges. It will be difficult to replace this trio which attributed to one half of Western’s scoring attack in 2013; however, after watching last evening’s game the Warriors should be fine.
So who is returning?
To fill the big boots lost to graduation, the Warriors host a team of 12 seniors, 5 juniors and 3 sophomores solid and experienced in all positions. Returning are four seniors key to the team’s success this year, they are “All-Conference” players Tyler Billings, Will Thomas and Jamie Nakhle as well as 2013 Mid-State 3A tournament MVP Sam Stafford.
In his third year starting as Western’s keeper, Billings was named to the “All-Region” team last year by recording 8 shutouts and not allowing more than two goals per game. His most notable heroics came against powerhouse rival Northern Guilford when he shut them out in the Mid-State 3A conference championship. Billings also made a critical stop in a PK shootout verses Eastern Alamance which propelled the Warriors to the Mid-State 3A regular season crown.
In his fourth year on varsity, Thomas will once again anchor the defense at center back with his speed and physical play. Thomas stopped some of the most prolific scorers in the conference last season which gain him recognition and a selection to the “All-Region” team along with Billings.
Nakhle, also playing in his fourth season on varsity, handles center mid-field and will be one of the major components to the Warriors success this season. His ability to see players while possessing the ball along with his excellent soccer IQ is tops in the conference.
Alongside Nakhle at center-mid will be Stafford. A very gifted player, Stafford brings experience and skill to the position by assisting on plays or creating his own scoring opportunities. Stafford and Nakhle complement each other extremely well and should be a solid combo in the middle for Western.
Returning starters from last season looking to impress in 2014 are: senior Noah Thompson, juniors Chris Golden, Ben Rankin and sophomore Matthew Garcia. Thompson is a crafty left-footed outside back which will bring intelligence to the backline as well as some scoring chances to the front. One of the most versatile players on the team is Golden. No other player on the team can play center defense one minute then immediately move to the striker position staying consistent as he switches roles. One-arm Rankin produced several goals last season with a couple of game winners. If he stays healthy with both arms, look out. Garcia played center-back with Thomas as well as outside at times. His calmness on the ball and his size is much needed for the defense.
Other impact players from last year’s squad
Senior Ryan Brooks, juniors Scott Wright, Robert Burns and sophomore Triston Barbour saw considerable playing time on Varsity in 2013. Speedy Brooks subbed as an outside back and gained more on the field time as the season progressed. Wright and Burns confidence improved during the latter part of the season and helped contribute to several goals. Both look solid during the early stages of pre-season. Another skilled player with an abundance of energy is Barbour. Like the Energizer Bunny, when Barbour enters the game he is all over the Pitch creating havoc for the opposing team.
A host of seniors moved up from JV along with a junior and sophomore to round out the Varsity team. Seniors include the Leonard twins, Taylor and Travis, Josh Parrish, Madison Roberts, Tyler Schomburg and Dewet Van Zyl. The Leonard twins are a very fast tandem and if you can tell them apart, please let me know. Parrish is a skilled mid-fielder with a lot of playing time potential. Roberts worked on his touches over the summer and could sneak a few goals in with his quickness. Like Parrish, Schomburg handles the ball very well and should contribute to the team’s success with intelligent positioning.
The biggest surprise so far in pre-season is Van Zyl. A goalie on the JV squad last season, Van Zyl now handles left wing and striker. He was a monster at camp scoring several goals and physical dominating his side of the field with speed and brute force. Watching him play will be a joy this season.
Finishing the line-up is junior John Roberts and sophomore transfer Donald Hernandez, better known as Junior. Up from JV, Roberts is a steady defender who holds his own when he subs on the Pitch. Another exciting player to watch will be Hernandez who transferred from Southern Alamance. During pre-season camp, Hernandez was a creator on the field with some shifty passes and sneaky goals.
Having watched High School soccer for about eight years, I have noticed there is always a senior who comes out of nowhere, steps up his game and contributes to the success of the team. In 2013 it was Camden Brooks and the season before Jackson Lilly took that honor. Both now play college soccer at small schools. I am banking on (no pun intended) Dewet Van Zyl will be the senior who excels to make the Warriors a better team. Let’s just hope I didn’t put the Sport’s Illustrated jinx on him.
Good Luck Warriors!!!