By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
There will be just one thing missing when the Bluefield High School boys soccer team takes the pitch today for their Region 3 championship match in Summersville.
Robb Williams’ job as chief nursing officer with HealthSouth has taken him off to a corporate meeting in Alabama.
He did leave behind instructions for the Beavers, though — win the match with Pocahontas County (12-5-2) so he’ll be able to coach the senior-laden team in the state tournament for Class AA and A combined, on Nov. 2 and 3 in Beckley.
He said in a phone interview on Monday evening that he had full faith in assistant coach Tim Roberts to lead the team. Williams said, “My illustrious assistant will be handling this game.”
Bluefield (14-5-2) got past an old nemesis, PikeView High School, in the sectional title game to reach the regional playoff.
“We expected to win the other night. We’ve closed the gap,” Williams said. “This year, going in, the young men had a lot of confidence and expected to win ... and we expect to win (Tuesday) night, to tell the truth.”
“That doesn’t take anything away from Pocahontas County,” he quickly added. “They’re a quality team. But we’re going up with hope to be in the final four in the state.”
The Warriors from Dunmore are on a five-game winning streak, the last four of those by shutouts.
The Beavers haven’t lost since Sept. 11, forging a 7-0-2 mark since then. What changed?
Williams said, “We actually changed our philosophy. We placed more emphasis in using our speed, and on offense we went to a more modernized look, and that has helped us.”
In that span, Bluefield defeated Pocahontas County 4-1 on Sept. 18 and 3-2 on Sept. 29, but there is no sense of over-confidence about their third encounter.
“Pocahontas County is a physical team, first off, and they’re very quick up front,” Williams said. “We’ll be playing on an artificial surface, so their speed will certainly provide a test for our defense.”
“We can handle them physically and athletically, but they’re very big up front.”
Bluefield counters with a team that has 10 seniors, “all of them very good young men who have worked very hard,” Williams said. “They all get significant playing time.”
The Bluefield schedule included four Class AAA schools. Williams said, “I think it’s actually helped us play a whole lot. We played most of them before Princeton (their last loss, by a 4-0 score).”
The coach said, “That was a tough game for us. They just out-played us, which was good because it made me re-evaluate the formations we play.”
“I knew I had some seniors,” he said. “I knew I had a pretty good team. You’ve got to play the good teams to beat the good teams.”
“This senior group is truly a coach’s delight. They do anything we ask. They really go out there and work hard. They made me want to stay on a couple of years.”
Three seniors man the important defensive line. “They’re very skilled, very quick and experienced in the back,” Williams said.
“John (Johnathon) Brown has led that group. We rely heavily on him to cover up any deficiency or mistake we might make upfield.”
Jalen Masterson is “always in the right place at the right time,” the coach said. Michael Musick, who transferred to Bluefield from Texas, “gives us some speed.”
Justin Freund, a three-year starter, is “a very skilled, very aggressive young man” in the stopper position, Williams said.
He noted, “I’m a big believer, number one, that the midfield has to control the game, and that’s what we’ve been able to do. ... We can run midfield schemes that not a lot of other teams run.”
Patrolling the long stripe is J.T. Roberts, who “never gives up, always goes full throttle, 120 percent,” Williams said.
Another senior, Matthew Sabo, has become much faster due to hard work in the off-season. “He became much faster,” Williams said. “I challenged him to lose some weight so he can step up as a leader. He is really an asset to help control the field.”
The left-footed Nick Delida is a natural to play the left side. “He has a powerful left foot,” Williams said. “He’s solid and skilled.”
On the attack, a transfer student from Spain, Jose Tarin, is effective at sweeper.
“The game where he comes from is a lot of passing — and precision passing,” Williams said. “He has helped us to be able to work from the outside in ... That’s enabled me to move a defender up to the midfield.”
Tarin has “helped us with our passing and setting up our offense,” the coach said. “He’s able to control the ball a little bit more than most kids.”
The striker on the left, Justin Phillips, is “one of our most skilled individuals,” Williams said. “On the right side is Chavez Burress, one of the fastest young men in the state. We use him to provide pressure on the defense.”
Ryan Stamper also sees time on the pitch to give Burress a break. When that happens, Williams said, “We don’t lose a lot. ... Both of those young men have a knack for the ball, and the speed.”
Goalkeeper Brandon Eldridge, an accomplished wrestler, was a welcome addition.
Williams said, “It’s his first year at a high school level, or even middle school. He is always so positive.”
Tyler Easley “is certainly a quality backup goalie,” Williams added. “He’s going to be really, really solid.”
The Beavers’ record includes six shutouts and four games in which the opponent has scored just once. The points-allowed average is an excellent 0.89 goals per game, while Bluefield has scored 2.53 goals on average.
He said even some of those numbers are misleading. “After we got leads, we were able to play some substitutes. (With starters still in), we actually would have had more shutouts than that.”
— Contact Tom Bone at firstname.lastname@example.org