By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It all began last spring with off-season, individual workouts and continued into the summer. Early August came and the team assembled and began a trek that has taken them to where they are today, the state soccer tournament.
The Bluefield Beavers make their first appearance in the Class AA-A West Virginia Soccer Semifinals this morning, kicking off against the Fairmont Senior Polar Bears at the Trace Fork Soccer Complex in Charleston.
This game was originally scheduled for this past Friday at the YMCA Complex in Beckley, but thanks to Hurricane Sandy and the snow she dumped on West Virginia, the tournament was delayed, then moved.
But game day is here and the Beavers look to continue the best soccer season in school history.
“We had a very good season,” said Beavers coach Robb Williams. “We started with conditioning in the spring and summer, obviously following WVSSAC rules, the young men came out and ran, and worked out, and East River Soccer started a summer league and a lot of the young men on the team played in that.
“We thought that was very, very good for our team, the ones who didn’t play travel soccer played in that league which was very instrumental in their continued development.”
Williams is in his third year as soccer coach at BHS. His first year the team won two games and the freshmen on that team are today’s senior leaders — and Williams realizes how hard those guys have worked to help get the Beavers to the state soccer tournament.
“We’ve grown the product and have really become a school that has four sports now,” Williams said. “Our football team is doing great as they typically do. Our basketball team had a great year last year and I expect them to be a state champion this year. Our baseball team had a good season and now soccer.
“It just goes to show the efforts of the young athletes at Bluefield High School as well as all the coaches for all the sports there.”
The Beavers, as the case with their football and basketball teams, relies on its speed on the soccer pitch.
“We’ve got unprecedented speed on defense as well as a lot of veterans back there,” Williams noted.
“John Brown anchors the defense and his is truly one of the best young soccer players in the area. He is quick, very athletic and he knows where to go. I rarely have to coach him.
“He, along with Jalen Masterson is back there and Jalen plays very solid, plays within his means and is very skilled. Michael Musick, we call him Texas, because that is where he came from, is very, very speedy, very aggressive and hates to get beat.”
Most teams play with four defenders, but Williams has made some variations with the Beavers this season.
“I changed up a little bit and added a bit of a wrinkle,” Williams said. “I moved one of the defenders up into a stopper position and that is Justin Freund, who has been very aggressive as well. He is very skilled, hustles and is all over the field.”
Williams said his coaching philosophy is that soccer games are won in the middle of the field, not in the back, not up front.
“We put a lot of emphasis on controlling the middle and that’s taken a lot of pressure off the defense, but when someone does get back there we have the skill and the speed to make up for that, and it doesn’t hurt that Brandon Eldridge is back in the goal,” Williams noted. “He has made some really, really nice saves with his athleticism and quickness.”
Offensively the Beavers have relied on several players who each bring different qualities to the game, but are fully effective.
“Jose Tarin brings a dimension that we really lacked last year,” Williams said. We didn’t have that one key player that could get the ball up to our strikers and Jose brings that to us. He is very skilled, he is from Spain and has a very unique passing ability for us that really opens it up for Justin Freund.
“On the other side what we typically run is we try to use speed over there with Chavez Burress or Ryan Stamper.
“We use a combination of speed and skill there, up front and we also make runs with our midfielders. J.T. Roberts has come a long way in making those runs up front.”
The Beavers did not face Fairmont Senior (14-5-4) during the regular season, and Williams and his assistant coach Tim Roberts do not know very much about the Polar Bears.
“I expect them to be a very, very tough opponent,” Williams said. When you go in the ranking their schedule was a little tougher, but our power rating, for whatever that’s worth, is a little higher than theirs.
“We expect a dogfight. They played PikeView and beat them 4-1 midway through the season. I reached out to (PikeView) Coach Sammy Hill and asked him what he thought of that team and he had nothing but good things to say about them,” Williams said.
“We expect a very hard-fought match and I’m sure we’ll get that.”
A Bluefield win and the Beavers, who enter the game with a 15-5-2 record, will play for the state championship on Wednesday.