By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Losing eight full or part-time starters to graduation would cripple most boys soccer teams.
Woodrow Wilson, however, is looking forward to a very good season.
“These guys are a good group of kids, and we have some skill,” veteran coach Rockey Powell said. “If they play as a team, by the tournaments anything can happen.”
He does have experience — five returning players started or saw action last year. Plus, it’s the fastest Woodrow team in some time.
Best of all, the Flying Eagles might have their most potent offense in years.
“We’ve not been putting a lot of goals on the scoreboard, but I’m looking for that to change,” Powell said. “From what I saw in 7-on-7 this summer in Fairmont, I think we have some guys who can score. I’m hoping for a lot of production out of Zach Johnson (center-midfielder and playmaker), Ryan Thompson (forward-wing), Jordan Wright (forward-wing) and Corey Acord (forward).”
Woodrow, which won Class AAA state championships in 2002, 2004 and 2010, was once known for its high-scoring teams.
Three Flying Eagles — midfielder Chase DeWese, forward Alex George and forward-midfielder Joe Rodriguez, were named state players of the year by either the W.Va. Sports Writers Association or the W.Va. Coaches Association.
In recent years, however, Woodrow has become more of a defensive club.
“We haven’t been supporting our wings and midfielders,” Powell said. “I hope our defense will give them more freedom to go forward, and we’ll get more runs out of the back.”
The 2010 team won states despite scoring a low number of goals. The following two seasons the lack of production caught up with the Flying Eagles. They were 9-8-4 in 2012.
“When your defense is under attack all the time, it will crack,” Powell said. “We didn’t control the ball as well as we should have the last few years.”
Besides Johnson, Thompson, Wright and Acord, other potential Woodrow starters include defensive midfielders Justin Johnson (a wing last year), Matt Sumpter (formerly the sweeper), Colton Hatfield (returning) and Jamie Rose.
The Flying Eagles will change their defense to a four-back, flat-four system.
“Matt and Justin are our primary guys, and we expect a lot from them,” Powell said. “They’ve got some seasoning.”
Senior goalkeeper Josh Moore, who backed Casey Young last year, will be challenged by sophomore Josh Chipps and freshman Josh Sisk. Sisk has good ball skills and can also play in the field.
Junior defender Jacob Hughes and sophomore forward-wing Kegan Rose will also make early contributions.
Long-time assistant Dave Harrah has stepped down as assistant coach, but will still contribute to the team as much as possible. Steve Laraba, a former Woodrow standout, has stepped in.
Laraba has coached at Huntington St. Joseph, Bluefield College and Mountain State University.
“Steve brings youth and some fresh ideas,” Powell said. “He also has a lot of game and practice knowledge, and he has a lot of experience for a young guy.”
While numbers are down this season — 26 players are out — Powell expects to put another competitive, quality team on the pitch.
“We’re going to be a good team. I don’t know how deep it will be because that’s the fewest number of players we’ve had in quite a few years,” he said.
“We might take a few lumps at the beginning of the season when we’re learning the system, but I expect them to step up. They’ve looked pretty good in practice.”
— E-mail: dstillwell@