If the current boys soccer season goes the way head coach David Fiest thinks it will, the Owen Warhorses will need to be mentally and physically sharp for the playoffs.
So like a sword-maker, he's relying on a method that has been used to build blades for centuries. This season's schedule is as hard as an anvil. It will temper a team that is already "something special," Fiest said.
"Every year I've made the schedule a little harder," he said. "But this year is probably one of the toughest schedules, if not ever, then in a long, long time."
Fiest's team opened the season Aug. 15 with a 3-0 win in the first game on Smoky Mountain High School's new turf. That same Mustangs team beat Owen's Western Highlands Conference foe Polk 5-1 just two nights later.
The second match of the Warhorses' season was against North Buncombe, a team that beat WHC programs Mitchell and Madison this season by a combined score of 18-0. Owen played the Black Hawks (12-10-1 in 2015) to a 1-1 tie.
"We're playing some bigger schools," he said. "We're not doing a lot of traveling. We're focused on playing schools that are close by. North Buncombe is a 3-A school that we knew would be a great challenge for us."
The difficult early season schedule has been good for the team, according to sophomore starter Lorenz Hoover.
"A lot of the schools we're playing are tough, so we expect a challenge every time we step on the field," Hoover said. "But playing a lot of tough teams is helping us be more consistent."
Owen's first match on its own new turf was a physical 1-0 loss to Asheville, which beat the Warhorses 5-1 last year before going on to finish the season 20-5-3. Despite the loss, Fiest was pleased with the effort he saw from his team.
"(Asheville) is an established program," he said. "They get a lot of good players, and if we want to build our program of that caliber here, then we need to be able to play well against teams like them."
Senior Matt Coward, a starting midfielder for the Warhorses, believes that it will take more than talent for his team to be successful. Playing a tough schedule helps the team grow in other aspects of the game, he said.
"We're also a very smart soccer team," he said. "That's important because as the year goes on and we play and practice more together, we'll get even better since we've got great chemistry."
Much of that chemistry comes from the fact that the Warhorses are loaded with juniors and seniors who have been playing in Fiest's system for several years. A talented group of sophomores, like Hoover and the team's new co-captain Devin Gildner, is making contributions as well.
"It was a huge honor to be named co-captain this year," Gildner said. "I'm not the best player on the team, but I feel like if I am out there pushing myself all the time then it's more likely that other guys will push themselves too."
Gildner's approach to the game is what all the players will need to achieve post-season success, their coach said.
"The schedule is helping prepare us to make a deep run in the playoffs this year," Fiest said. "Obviously we want to do well in the conference, but we are continuing to try to build something special here. And I would like to see us make a deep run in the state playoffs.
"When you look around the county at schools like Asheville, Reynolds, T.C. Roberson, you think 'those are really strong programs,'" he continued. "Even when they have down years, people think 'Wow, those are really good programs.' And even though we're one of the smaller schools in the county, I want Owen to have that same kind of reputation."