BOONE — When the Watauga Pioneers boys’ soccer team plays defense, its first priority is to obviously stop its opponent from scoring.
During the early part of the 2019 season, that’s been working. In its first three games, Watauga allowed just one goal in its first three games. The downside for the Pioneers is the one goal they gave up was the only goal either team scored in a 1-0 loss to Newton-Conover on Aug. 21.
But, the Pioneers pitched two shutouts in their 4-0 win at Erwin on Aug. 19 and a 3-0 win over Grey Stone Day on Aug. 30.
Pioneers coach Josh Honeycutt has several players, experienced and younger, to go to fortify the Watauga defense. Honeycutt has been happy with the goalkeeping provided by Reilly Riddle (junior) and Clement Heistand (sophomore), but defense goes deeper than that.
Three seniors, James Privette, Michael Walker and Gabe Souza, provide a first line of defense for the Pioneers. Junior Drew Ganley and sophomores Kia Suyaoand Matt Taubman have teamed with the upperclassmen to provide Watauga with a solid defense that does not allow a lot of shots at the Pioneers’ goal.
“We rotate it around some to keep fresh legs and moving guys here and there,” Honeycutt said. “They have confidence in our keepers and we have confidence in playing possession in the back.”
Honeycutt said playing good defense is more than keeping the ball out of the goal. It’s also setting up the offense into good attack position to score goals.
Honeycutt wants the Pioneers to possess the ball and keep offensive pressure on Watauga’s opponents.
“We want to keep possession,” Honeycutt said. “If we have the ball then we have a chance of scoring. If the other team has it we can’t score. If we have nothing and we don’t want to force the ball then we’ll play the ball back and restart.”
Honeycutt said sometimes, the Pioneers will work the ball back to their goalkeepers and start over. The idea is Watauga’s opponents will follow the Pioneers to their defensive end, but then leave openings in the field that can lead to scoring opportunities.
“We want to draw the defense out, stretch the space, play back to the keeper and play it wide and make the defense move around and shift and move to where we can find some open spots and pick them apart,” Honeycutt said. “ Being able to do that with our keepers is nice and key for us to maintain possession and restart the attack.”