Western Highland Conference closing in on Warhorses

Fred McCormick

Over the past several seasons, the boys soccer program at Owen High School distanced itself from the remainder of the Western Highlands Conference.

Beginning in 2012, the Warhorses began reeling off conference victories left and right. The team’s dominance was on full display as it won every conference match-up, with the exception of one, through three straight seasons.

This year has looked different for the Warhorses. The team started the season with back-to-back tie games against Smoky Mountain and Christ School.

The Warhorses went into their first conference match-up of the season winless with an 0-2-3 record following a difficult nonconference schedule. The first five games of the season took a toll, according to head coach David Fiest.

“This is probably one of the hardest schedules that I’ve scheduled,” he said. “These were some of the best teams in Western North Carolina that are being recognized in the state. T.C. (Roberson), Asheville, Christ School and Thomas Jefferson is a dang good team.”

The Warhorses opened the conference season against Avery in early September and struggled offensively as they were defeated 1-0 by the Vikings. The loss was the second consecutive conference loss for Owen, who was beaten on the road by Polk in the final Western Highlands match of the season last year.

Fiest points to his team’s recent success in the conference as a stumbling block for them against the Vikings.

“When you win conference that many years in a row and then go undefeated for so many seasons, you start to get complacent,” he said. “It showed. They scored early on a penalty kick and the rest of the game we played too comfortable, like we knew we would be able to win.”

Consecutive victories against Mountain Heritage and Madison followed the Avery loss, but Owen dropped its second conference game of the season to Hendersonville. The two Western Highlands losses on the season is the first time that the Warhorses have dropped multiple conference matches in a single season since 2011.

“When we lost the game against Avery, we knew we were going to have to change our attitude going into conference games,” Fiest said. “Losing to Hendersonville, we really realized we have to step up and play.”

Improved programs throughout the conference is another factor in the narrowing gap between Owen and the remainder of the teams, according to Fiest. But in a test against Polk, one of the more consistent teams in the Western Highlands, the Warhorses responded.

“We went down two goals to Polk and ended up having to fight back,” he said. “We ended up getting those goals back and went into overtime.”

Owen breathed life back into their season by tying the Wolverines. It followed that matchup by avenging its earlier loss to Avery with a 3-2 win in overtime in Newland.

Transitioning from defense into an offensive attack is what the Warhorses need to do better for the postseason, according to Fiest.

“Typically the top two teams from our conference go to the playoffs,” he said. “But that third team has gone quite a bit because typically that team in our conference has a good enough record to get in.”

Fiest said he told his team it needs to win more to get into the postseason.

The Warhorses will rely on contributions from a roster that has varying degrees of soccer experience. Junior Jacob Robinson has been a silent leader and the team’s top goal scorer up this point in the season, according to Fiest.

Team captain Micah Davis is another seasoned soccer player on the Owen squad. Where Robinson is more of a quiet leader, Davis has displayed some of the more traditional characteristics of a player with the ability to galvanize a team.

The junior has started for the varsity team since his freshman season and believes that this year’s Warhorses have a reason to be confident.

“We have talent,” Davis said. “We’re in an interesting situation where we know we have what it takes to compete in the conference, and statistically we’re not out of it. We need to find a way to make ourselves play as more of a team because the skill is there, but we have to find a way to make it all click.”