By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
EAST RIVER —
The soccer teams for Bluefield College have reached a critical point in their seasons — and the next few developments will be played out on their home pitch.
The Rams return this evening to East River Soccer Complex for more non-conference play. The men (4-6) greet Crown College from Tennessee at 5 p.m., game two of five straight home appearances. The women (5-4) take on Barton College at 7 p.m. in the midst of a three-match home stand.
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Playing for their fourth new coach in four years, the women’s team scrimmaged Concord to a 1-1 tie and then began the regular season with four victories, including a pair of back-to-back overtime wins. Hopes were high.
First-year head coach Tom Price said, “We started off so strong, 4-0 against good competition.”
Co-captain “Pip” Pattison said, “We were excited, really excited. I wasn’t surprised. Going through practices, we were working together (well), and even though they were new, we were doing our best to get to know each other and everything. I think it was real easy for us.”
Three of their four losses then came on the road.
“We’ve done so much travel early in the year with these three- or four-hour trips,” Price said. “It’s just so hard to sit in a bus for three or four hours, and then try to get out and play. So, we’re looking forward to the next two home games. ... We’re looking to battle.”
“We’re trying to create a culture of competitiveness — that is going to take time.”
Pattison said the key of working with the new coach is “getting used to it as quick as you can, and getting into the rhythm with the new players, the freshmen coming in — which I think we did really well this year.”
Two of those freshmen are 2013 Graham High graduates, Whitney Browning and Kali Furry. Browning, who starts on the wing, said, “The level of soccer at college is a lot faster, the speed of play is faster than the high school level.
“And also, you just have to listen to your team more. You come off of a high school team, you all just naturally listen to each other. Then, when you come into college as a freshman, you just have to train your ear to the other teammates’ voices.”
She agreed with Pattison that the transition for the freshmen has “worked out pretty easy so far.”
“The seniors on this team are very welcoming, and they try their hardest — even from preseason, they’ve tried their hardest to make us work as a unit and be as a team,” Browning said. “We do team activities together, and it just brings us closer as a team, and as friends.”
Pattison said, “We had a new coach last year, too. ... I think a big thing is, he (Price) is going to stick around. I’ll be graduating, and a few of us will be graduating, but it’ll be good for our younger girls to have a set coach for the four years that they’re here.”
The team is 0-4 in the tough Mid-South Conference, and Bluefield has not yet scored a goal in league play this season. But Pattison likes what she has seen.
“I love his system,” she said. “Obviously, it’s working for us now. We have a winning record still, and hopefully, we’ll get a conference win soon. ... We (will) just keep practicing hard, and working hard.”
Browning said her approach is to “work as a team, stay as a unit, and just play simple balls, but good balls.”
Asked about the conference dry spell, she said, “It’s kind of disappointing, but we’re getting there, and we’re going to get one.”
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The men have outscored their opponents 28-4 in their four wins, but are looking to turn things around after conference losses of 6-0 and 2-0 last week.
Men’s coach Peter Dryer sees “a lot of good things” in his squad.
He said the team has been focusing on “the last pass, the last touch, and the goal.” On Saturday against a talented team from Campbellsville University, he said, “Ideas were there, but the execution let us down.”
“Those things are fixable. I’d be a little bit more concerned if the ideas weren’t there. But if the execution is (there), it’s a little bit easier ... once you have the ideas, to start making the ball go where you want it to go.”
“It’s always good to be home. Although we haven’t protected our home field much this year, I feel good about the upcoming games. If we can play this well, and put a finishing piece on it, we’ll do very well over the next couple of weeks that we’re at home.”
“We’re looking forward to not traveling quite as much, and getting back to work here at East River.”
Four of the Rams’ last five regular-season matches are against Mid-South Conference foes. He said league teams feature good and big athletes.
“Technically, they’re all very good,” he said. “The majority of our conference is international players, so they’ve grown up with the ball at their foot.”
“It’s been tough. It’s been good competition, but I really feel that we’re right in the thick of it. There are a couple of teams that everyone in the conference is having a hard time keeping up with, but we’re not far off.”
One of those teams, Lindsey Wilson College, is currently ranked second in NAIA men’s soccer, and will be at East River on Nov. 2 to wrap up the regular season.
Dryer said, “We think we can run with them, so that’s what we’re going to plan on doing.”
— Contact Tom Bone at