Warhorses open with four up, four down
Goals came fast and furiously for the Warhorse soccer team when the season started in mid-August. In fact, the varsity soccer team found the net 14 times on its way to a 4-0 start to the season.
The attack stalled Aug. 23 - the team managed only four goals in four straight losses.
So which Owen team would show up as the newly revamped Western Highlands Conference portion of the schedule gets underway with a home match against Polk on Sept. 25?
If anyone knows what to expect from the team, it's head coach David Fiest who has been at the helm of the Warhorses program since 2014 (and the Warlassies program since 2010). The early 2017 season has been an "interesting" one, he said.
"We lost a really good group of seniors last year," he said. "The season started a month before school started, so we had to work hard to get the kids in a rhythm."
The Warhorses played five games before the first day of school, but responded well out of the gate, opening up the season with a 5-0 victory on the road against Smoky Mountain.
"They did everything right," Fiest said. "They're still doing everything right, but you just don't win sometimes."
After falling to Enka, the Warhorses took on 3-A Roberson, which lost only one of its first six Western Mountain Conference matches.
Then came back-to-back losses against what Fiest called a "really good" East Henderson team. The first eight games of the season - all nonconference matches - were a little tricky, in large part because of this year's conference realignment, according to the coach.
"Because we lost a team (Hendersonville) in our conference our schedule is kind of crazy," he said. "At one point we only had like two games in a span of two-and-a-half weeks."
Despite the .500 start to the season, the Warhorses are poised to have a strong showing in the WHC, according to Fiest, particularly because the departure of the Bearcats means a loss of a perennial contender and Owen rival in the conference.
"It's hard to really say what impact the loss of Hendersonville will have on our conference," Fiest said. "They always brought great competition, and there was a lot of tradition there, at least in my time here. It was a game we always looked forward to."
The Bearcats finished 12-0 in the conference last season, in front of a second-place Owen team (9-3). Fiest believes that his team is poised to challenge for the the top spot, overcoming the loss of talented seniors from a season ago.
With Hendersonville exiting, players like junior captain Devin Gildner will have to help keep the team from letting its guard down.
"He's a prime example of a hard worker," Fiest said. "He's got great character, he's respectful and he's respected. He's a solid all-around guy, and you can tell he really wants to do a good job."
Gildner has taken the initiative this season, according to Fiest, choosing to spend time researching leaders on professional soccer teams and sharing some of his findings with his coach.
"Having him step up has helped us coaches tremendously," Fiest said. "He's willing to do whatever it takes for the betterment of the team."
High-character players like Gildner and senior Ethan Kadau, who organized a mission trip this summer to Haiti, are crucial to the continued success of Fiest's program.
"We really try to build a culture that focuses on building quality people as well as soccer players," Fiest said. "That way everyone is committed to putting themselves aside and helping the team."
That culture allows electric players like Kadau and Lorenz Hoover, who Fiest calls "very skilled," to create opportunities on the field.
"Lorenz is Mr. Work Ethic," Fiest said. "He has a very good understanding of the game, and he's showed maturity early on in his soccer career for me."
Fiest's formula of mixing the right attitude into a system that creates opportunities on the field for his players should help propel the Warhorses near the top of the conference this season, if the team maintains its focus, according to Fiest.
"We're heading into the conference part of the schedule looking at it as business as usual," he said. "We're going to take it one game at a time and not really think about the conference picture as a whole. We have to take care of it one game at a time."