Most teams would be thrilled to start the season the way the Warlassies have. The Owen High girls soccer team played eight games heading into spring break and won six of them.
But despite a 6-1-1 record that includes two Western Highlands Conference victories, head coach David Fiest doesn't think he has his squad figured out yet.
"So far this season it's been difficult to find the direction we want to go, tactically," he said. "Learning the strengths and weaknesses of this group has been tough as well."
Early this season, a couple of things prevented Fiest from getting a look at his full roster. One was a spate of injuries that kept some players off the field. Another were the showcase tournaments that caused other players to be away.
"Last night was the first game where we had everybody back and together on the field," Fiest said the day after his Warlassies picked up their first WHC victory of the season, 1-0 at home against Polk. "We're just starting to find consistency and chemistry."
The team lost a lot of seniors from last season's squad, which finished the season 14-7. Many of them had been playing in Fiest's system for three or four years. Their absences in crucial positions were keenly felt.
"At the moment we're working on learning position responsibilities and staying consistent within those," the coach said. "We want to just play our game and not change our level of play based on each opponent."
Owen started the season on Feb. 28 with a convincing 4-1 win over East Henderson, a member of the 2A Mountain 6 Conference, which includes former WHC school Hendersonville. The Warlassies fell 1-1 on March 5 when another Mountain 6 school - Smoky Mountain - handed them their only loss of the season.
In the six contests since, the Warlassies have gone 5-0-1, outscoring their opponents by a combined score of 21-2.
"This team is capable of doing some pretty big things when everyone is focused on playing their positions," Fiest said.
Owen's early success suggests that the "flow" the coach said his team is trying to find is beginning take shape. He's cautiously optimistic.
"There are still a lot of unanswered questions," Fiest said. "We still need to see players putting in consistent effort, night in and night out."
Fiest has seen glimpses of what this squad to do. The Warlassies put up three goals on Franklin in one half on March 23. Three nights later, they ground out a close, physical match against Polk.
"We played a balanced game against (Polk)," Fiest said. "We defended and attacked well, and it was very good win for us."
With last year's WHC champion Hendersonville out of the conference, Owen's win over Polk could help decide who finishes on top this season. Both teams finished last season 9-3 in the WHC, each losing one game against the other and both dropping two to the Hendersonville Bearcats.
The Warlassies and Polk Wolverines face off again April 18 in Polk County. It notched a 1-1 tie against Providence Academy on March 29. The Warlassies do not have another match until April 9, when they go on the road to take on WHC foe Avery.
"We come right out of the break and have two conference games the first week back," Fiest said. "So we can't let this time off set us back," he said, referring to spring break.
It remains to be seen how the break will impact Fiest's players. But as he and the Warlassies head into the second half of the season there is one thing he knows for sure.
"If we can play together, trust one another and be confident while remaining humble, then the sky's the limit," he said. "If we show that we can have self-discipline, the right attitude and put in the hard work it takes, there really is no telling how far this team can go."