By Carey Phillips

 

Smoky Mountain’s men’s soccer team will open practice at 3:30 p.m. Monday at Carr Hooper Stadium/Babe Howell Field.

The first two days of practice will be for tryouts, according to Coach Stephen Brown.

Soccer practice typically starts Aug. 1, but like everything else it has been impacted by COVID-19. The N.C. High School Athletic Association is allowing teams to play up to 14 games. The opener is Jan. 25 at home against Owen.

“It’s unchartered waters for us just like everybody else,” Brown said. “Flexibility is the word. We have to be flexible.”

He said since workouts began in June a couple of sessions have been held most weeks. Attendance was steady in the 30s until other sports began to crank up their practices and seasons.

“Of course the NCHSAA has guidelines so we have had to be careful in our training and with social distancing,” Brown said. “We’re trying to make things as game-like as possible while abiding by the proper protocols.”

The coach said that given the circumstances he has been pleased with how things have gone.

“I feel like our boys have responded very well to all of this, probably better than I would have if I was their age,” he said. “I feel for these kids, especially the juniors and seniors, but they’ve taken it in stride.”

Junior striker Billy Ramirez is the only returning all-conference player from a team that went 18-6-1 and won the Mountain Six Conference championship with a 9-1 mark. Other returnees who started at times last season include seniors Ryan Waliezer, Hunter Pressley and Caleb Handy and junior Tucker Watterson.

“I feel real confident in this bunch of guys,” Brown said. “We play in a small conference, but it’s a tough conference from top to bottom. Last year we won conference, and went to the wire against the two bottom teams. With the players we have coming up from the JVs and the returning seniors from a conference championship team, I think we have great potential to make some noise this year.”

There have been some changes to the coaching staff. Former player Chris Henson is the varsity assistant. Colby Reddin is head JV coach, and Jesus Rosario, another former player, is the JV assistant.

The schedule is as follows:

Jan. 25 – Owen; 28 – at Polk.

Feb. 1 – at Swain; 4 – Madison; 8 – Pisgah; 11 – at Hendersonville; 15 – Brevard; 17 – East Henderson; 22 – at Franklin; 24 – at Pisgah.

March 1 – Hendersonville; 3 – at Brevard; 8 – at East Henderson; 10 – Franklin.