By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Some folks thought Shady Spring would be the whipping boy of soccer in its first season of Class AAA ball.
They were wrong.
“We competed in every game. We hung around,” coach Mike Manning said of the Tigers’ 9-10-1 record last year. “Nobody blew us out of the water.”
Shady fought hard, learned from its mistakes and narrowly missed a .500 season.
With seven starters back, the Tigers have high hopes for a winning campaign.
“The guys have a different attitude. There’s a different vibe around them,” Manning said. “Last year was an adjustment — the (AAA) game is faster, the passing is more precise. But we’ve gotten over the learning curve, and we’re ready to make a splash.”
Shady, which opens its season Aug. 27 at Greenbrier East, looks strong in the midfield. Only Jacob Childers was lost to graduation.
Returnees Nick Bartusiak, a senior, and Casey Killmer, a junior, are joined in the middle by juniors Keegan Mueller, Logan Foster and Levi Pack.
Both Bartusiak and Killmer started as a freshman. Bartusiak will be the playmaker at center-mid.
“I consider Nick an all-around soccer player,” Manning said. “He helps out on defense and plays a nice ball. He doesn’t score, but he’s right there to assist. He’s got a great head on his shoulders to distribute the ball.”
Killmer, brother of former All-Stater Cameron Killmer, can also get the ball where it belongs.
“Casey’s passing is amazing, and while he’s a finesse player, he may be more physical than his brother.”
The forwards are Ben Little, a second-year starter, and junior Tony Stover, a backup last season..
“Ben is one of the fastest guys around, and he’s working on his ball control,” Manning said. “It tough to keep up with him. He’ll outrun you and put a lot of pressure on the keeper.
“Tony is the most improved player on the team. He’s grown, and his shot is very accurate.”
While the offense looks strong, the Tigers have some gaps to fill on defense. Stopper John Mark Bacho, sweeper Josh Buckland and back Nick Farley graduated.
Only junior Josh Snyder returns from the back four. He’ll be the new sweeper.
“Josh has some amazing speed. You can’t coach that or athleticism, and that’s two things he’s gifted with,” Manning said. “He’s very smart and he picks up everything.”
The other defenders will come from a cadre of eight sophomores who saw JV action last season.
There is experience in goal. Senior keeper Jonathan Beckett has started since he was a freshman.
Tall and lanky at 6-foot-3, his size makes up for what he lacks in quickness. Plus, he plays with enthusiasm.
“Most people hate goalie. Jonathan loves it,” Manning said. “He’s definitely physical, and when the ball is in the air, he will go up and take it. He played basketball last year and it’s going to help him a lot. He’s definitely attacking the ball more.”
Manning has coached the Tigers 10 of the last 11 seasons, having taken one off for some college work.
His first season he had just four players to come out the first day. He had 12 by the first game.
“The program has really grown since then,” Manning said. “This year we had 21 out, and last year we had 26.”
He wants a tough, defensive-minded team out on the pitch.
“Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships,” Manning said. “I have a defensive mindset, and the team has bought into the concept.
“They want to protect their house and protect their goal.”
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