BOONE — The Watauga boys’ soccer team officially began the defense of its Northwestern Conference championship with tryouts on Aug. 1 at Jack Groce Stadium.
Pioneers coach Josh Honeycutt made his cuts Aug. 2 and the Pioneers’ varsity team moves on to their first game, which is Aug. 19 at Erwin. Watauga hosts Newton-Conover on Aug. 21. Watauga will also host the Mellow Mushroom Tournament Aug. 30-31 with the Pioneers playing Asheville at 5 p.m. on Aug 30.
The Pioneers have plenty of holes to fill in its lineup, but Honeycutt feels he has the players to do that. Watauga’s top two scorers from the Pioneers’ 21-5 edition, Jair Alvarez and Gabe Highfield, are two of seven graduating seniors. Alvarez, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the East-West All-Star game in July, led Watauga with 26 goals. Highfield was next with 17.
But Honeycutt has liked what he’s seen during preseason workouts thus far.
“We are very excited about what we have,” Honeycutt said. “We’ve got a lot of guys returning. A lot of juniors are going to be on the roster this year and a lot of those juniors are going to be starters and be very key components. A lot of those guys were on the varsity last year as sophomores and got a lot of good experience and a good, deep run in the playoffs.”
Honeycutt is counting on a diverse way of scoring goals. Watauga brings back four rising seniors and eight rising juniors from 2018, and the Pioneers are likely to score most of there goals by committee.
“One of our strong suits is going to be the ability to possess and attack as a team,” Honeycutt said. “It’s going to be very much a team scoring mentality. They’ve always grown up that way. They always like to set the other one up.”
Honeycutt is encouraged by the Watauga defense, including two who participated in the state games over the summer. Colter Conway brings his quickness and Trivette, who stands 6-foot-4, provide speed and size to the Pioneers’ defense.
Ruben Nelson also brings speed to the Watauga defense. Goalkeepers Reilly Riddle and Clement Heistand, who also played in the state games, returns to the Pioneers’ defense.
“I feel like we’re really solid, fast and physical in the back,” Honeycutt said. “They’re going to be very difficult to get around and score on.”
Watauga went to a team camp over the summer to improve their game minus the graduated seniors. Watauga also must play without two varsity veterans in Harper Shanly, who is transferring to North Carolina Math and Science, and Tucker Brown, who was accepted to play with the Charlotte Independence Academy Team, which is a developmental team.
Honeycutt said losing a player who is talented enough to play for the Charlotte Independence Academy Team is not easy to absorb, but he encouraged Brown to make the trip to Charlotte to play.
Brown, a rising junior who played in 18 games after missing early games of the season with an injury, scored four goals in 2018.
“It’s a huge opportunity for him and I encouraged him to take it because they wanted him to play,” Honeycutt said. “As badly as I wanted to say, ‘No, stay here at Watauga High School,’ I’d love to have him on the field because he is such a good player. But it’s a great opportunity for him.”
Honeycutt and six Watauga players — Heistand, Conway, Trivette, Michael Walker, Owen Combs and Hatch Svensky — played in the state games over the summer. Honeycutt’s West team finished with a 0-2-2 record, but he feels he and the Pioneers who participated in the games benefitted from the experience.
“I was able to see some other players from around the state,” Honeycutt said. “The Watauga kids who were on the team made a good showing and enjoyed it. It was definitely a good experience, but it definitely was not the results we were hoping it would be.”