With 41 players turning out for soccer practice this fall, Clinton head coach Brad Spell has a lot to be optimistic about for the coming season.
Such a large turnout and the fact that the Dark Horses only lost three players off last year’s squad that finished 16-8-1 overall and 11-3 in Four County Conference play, advancing to the second round of the NCHSAA 2-A playoffs, gives Spell and his coaching staff every reason to believe this year’s edition will be improved.
Clinton will be young again this season with only 4 seniors, but the junior led team will be able to draw on many minutes of game experience. That experience should be this team’s strength.
Spell commented on the team’s experience, saying, “We played a lot of sophomores last year and they don’t have any excuses, they got a good feel last year of what the varsity level of play is all about. They should be faster and stronger since that is what we worked on in the off season, it is just time to take that work to the field.”
The coach is concerned that while the team has lots of experience, there are still unanswered questions.
“Our biggest dilemma right now is who is going to fill some spots on defense, it needs to get a lot stronger. Seems like we have a couple of different people step up each scrimmage and play really well, we need to have someone step up and take a leadership role in the back. We probably know who our top nine players are right now, but after that, we don’t know who will step up after that and provide consistent depth,” continued Spell.
Assistant coach Jamie Williams added, “depth is a great luxury, but it can also be a curse, it does no good to put a great player in a spot if he destroys team chemistry. We just have to find that balance. That is the biggest challenge right now.”
The Dark Horses will need to find those answers quickly. They face an early season schedule that is daunting to say the least.
“We open the regular season against North Brunswick, out of the very strong East Central Conference, and have Dixon, East Duplin, Croatan, Richlands, and Whiteville on the non-conference schedule. There are no layups on our non-conference slate,” said Spell, commenting on the Horses’ non-conference opponents. “We expect Wallace-Rose Hill to be really tough again this year, they have won the conference title and state championship the past two years, so they are still the team to beat.”
JV head coach Mitchell Brewington is almost giddy over the group of players he has on the roster for the coming season.
“This is probably the best group of freshmen we have ever had. They are talented and very athletic and combining them with the sophomores and their year of experience we have the makings of a really good team,” said Brewington.
The Dark Horse coaches plan to carry 21 players on the JV roster and the remaining 20 on Varsity to open the season.
The Dark Horses also have longevity on the coaching staff. Spell will be patrolling the Clinton sideline for the seventeenth season. Assistant Jamie Williams is in his fourteenth year on the staff, Mitchell Brewington is back for a fifth year, and Adam Smith has been on the coaching staff for two years. The level of experience that the staff brings to the Dark Horse bench is great benefit to the program.
Spell summed up the prospects for the coming season, saying the club is much improved.
“All of our kids have worked hard in the offseason. They have all improved their speed and strength and now just have to take that improvement to the field,” the coach remarked. “The key to this season will be the kids really accepting their roles, whether they are a starter, a role player or a practice player. The physical skills are there. They got a taste of what it takes to play at a high level last year, if they can accept their roles and play together as a team we can have a really successful season.”