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Soccer practice begins for West Forsyth boys

By Jay Spivey
For the Clemmons Courier

January isn’t usually a time where you’d see soccer players around North Carolina playing on a high school field. That’s all changed in the last 10 months.

Since last March, teams in all sports have had to adapt to changes the NCHSAA has set forth because of COVID-19. With that, boys soccer, which is usually played from late August until the state championship in late November, is now being played starting with practice earlier this month on Jan. 11. That happened last week at West Forsyth when Coach Jeffrey Williams rolled out the soccer balls for the first time since Nov. 9, 2019, when West Forsyth lost to Charlotte Providence 2-2 (6-5 PKs) in the first round of the NCHSAA Class 4-A playoffs, ending the season 17-5-1.

“It’s cold for one,” Williams said. “…I don’t know if you could ever get used to 40 degrees and rain. But as far as the guys, I think it’s really good for them psychologically — to have something, to be a part of something, to see each other, to interact with each other, to hang out with people outside of their household.”

Just like with every other sport in the NCHSAA there was a lot of uncertainty about when and if that sport would be played during the 2020-21 school year. And with that came the inability for teams to train during the past 10 months. Williams said he thinks boys soccer players might have an advantage over some sports because many players have been playing 7-on-7 in the Fusion League at the Truist Soccer Complex in Bermuda Run.

“A lot of players were able to play in that from the area high schools, which is great,” he said.”They did that once a week, and then their club teams actually moved their schedules and they had a half of a fall season. And so they played in October and November with their club and trained with them.

“So I was tickled that they were able to get out and train with them, but also to be able to have that interaction because the restrictions on club soccer were a little less than we had with high school athletics.”

Those restrictions in the NCHSAA are temperature checks and wearing masks at all times, even during practices and games. Williams said they felt like the Titans have adapted to wearing masks pretty easily.

“They’re not in the usual shape they’re in in August, but it was good to see them touching the ball, the training with their club coaches.”

COVID-19 has put a halt to many teams in various sports in Forsyth County and in North Carolina. Teams are taking the season day-by-day instead of looking too far ahead at the season.

“The variables this year are mounting against us — with COVID for one and then with the weather,” Williams said.

In addition to those variables Williams and his wife Sharon are expecting their first child, a daughter named Hannah Mae, who is due on Saturday.

“I’m shocked with myself that I haven’t been in a panic or in stress mode,” Williams said. “I would’ve predicted I would’ve handled it worse than what I am. But I guess with COVID times everything’s a little slower with schedules, and we’re not doing as much, so in that respect it’s been a little easier. We’ve not had as much to do or people to see or places to go. So that’s been a relief.

“When we found out we were pregnant we felt, ‘January, January’s a nice time.’ When they said the soccer season was in January, I was like, “Oh, man.’ ”

Assistant coach Tim Hilliard, has also had some personal issues. His father has had some health issues, and he asked to speak up on the day of the first practice.

“My parents live in Kentucky, and so it was at the beginning of last season, in the fall of 2019, I believe,” Hillard said. “Just like how it’s becoming unfortunately normal for people, navigating, being apart from family and friends, and trying to care from family from far away, it’s just tough.

“We wanted the players to know that we’re in this with them, that everybody has something happening right now, or multiple things. They’re juggling a lot and we wanted to own that and admit that, and not act like those things don’t matter or that we’re not going to bring those to the soccer field. But we want to be real with each other and acknowledge difficult things. We want to have each other’s backs and be there for each other, and in order to do that we need to be able to talk about what’s difficult.”

West Forsyth was part of a top-heavy Central Piedmont 4-A in the fall of 2019. Reynolds won the conference, going 10-0 and losing in the Class 4-A state championship, and West Forsyth finished second with its two losses coming to Reynolds. East Forsyth finished third at 5-5. One concern for Williams is that the Titans lost 14 players off last season’s team because of graduation and transferring.

“I think we lost eight or nine seniors in which seven or eight of them started,” Williams said. “But we have some people who decided to play fall soccer with some area (private) high schools, and attend there. We lost some of those, as well, but last year’s team had the most depth of any team I’ve ever had.

“We have experience in the back. We have experience in the midfield. We have experience up top. I’m super-stoked with everybody that we have. I think they’re quality players, but even more so, I think they’re quality people.”

Even with all the losses the Titans return Jesse Guzman and Daniel Bustos, who scored six goals apiece.

“Things happen for a reason,” Williams said. “I just can’t say enough how excited I am having these kids out here and playing soccer now.”

Games can be played starting Mon., Jan. 25, and each team can play a maximum of 14 games. West Forsyth is scheduled to open it season Tues., Jan. 26, at Ledford. Teams are only allowed two games per week until the regular season is scheduled to conclude on March 12. West Forsyth will also play nonconference games against Greensboro Grimsley, Northwest Guilford and Greensboro Page before opening its conference slate at home against cross-county rival East Forsyth.

“So far today we’ve been impressed with their maturity and their flexibility,” Hilliard said. “Just adjusting to the conditions and the things that we’re asking of them. Everybody’s had a really great attitude when it comes to all of things so far.”

If West Forsyth can make it to the playoffs, which start on March 16 and conclude after five rounds, one less than in previous seasons because of the condensed schedule, the state championship is scheduled for March 27.

“I know everybody in the conference is good and strong,” Williams said. “They’ve lost some players. But I think our players have gotten better, and I think that our players are talented. And I don’t see any reason why we couldn’t win the conference.”