Matt Corn expects an old friend to visit Wednesday for Polk County’s soccer season opener.
“Every time I played, when I’d step out on the field, I got butterflies, every time they’d call out my name,” said Corn, the former Wolverine player who is beginning his first season as Polk County’s head coach.
“I think it’s going to be the same thing. It’s going to be nervous for me because I’m the type of coach that wants to correct every little thing. So it’s going to be harder for me to not try to macromanage them too much.”
Corn will make his coaching debut as the 2022 Wolverines make theirs, battling West Henderson in a non-conference clash in G.M. Tennant Stadium. Junior varsity action starts at 5 p.m. with the varsity to follow, and both matches will be shown live on NFHS Network.
The Wolverines will be looking to rebound from last season’s 3-13-1 record, and Corn is optimistic that a rally is in the offing, even with the inevitable growing pains that accompany a coaching change.
“We’ve got some really good talent out here,” he said. “We just have to figure out the best positions for each person, and that’s what I’m trying to do right now. But overall, I’m pretty satisfied with what we’ve got.
“We’ve got good people in every position. It’s just, again, trying to find the right spot, how they seem to be adapting to what you want to do.”
Standout goalkeeper Greyson Ball graduated, but the Wolverines have a pair of intriguing options to take over in goal.
Junior Cade Bright saw action last season and will start in goal on Wednesday. Another junior, Luke Miller, has joined the program and will serve as Polk’s junior varsity keeper while gaining match experience.
“Cade is really solid back there,” Corn said. “Luke Miller hasn’t played in a while, and he may not have the best footwork yet, but he is very, very agile and his hand-eye coordination is phenomenal.
“So we’ve got two really good goalkeepers, and the idea is to try to give Luke a little more playing time, so he’s going to be with JV for a good portion of the season.”
Corn said his defensive backfield is still being sorted, but senior Brian Bautista will likely see time as a sweeper, with freshmen Will Garrison and Sebastian Azar also seeing time in the back. Senior Nathaniel Rhein, in his first season with the program, may deliver an impact defensively as well.
“Nate Rhein is probably the fastest and strongest player on the team,” Corn said. “He’s not played soccer in a really long time, but he scares the heck out of people. He’s a good right back, and there’s literally nobody that’s going to get around him. If they do, they better make a quick decision because he’ll be right on top of them.”
There is experience and depth in midfield with a group that includes Harrison Ashworth, James Purtill, Nate Martinez, Owen Highsmith, Carson Metcalf, Charlie Jackson, Isaac Hernandez, Jasper Azar and Elliot Whiteside.
Seniors Cole Pereira and Jack Smith will lead efforts up front.
“Cole and Jack are predominantly forwards, but they could also easily transition into a midfield role as well,” Corn said. “So we have a lot of flexibility from the midfield up. It’s just the back line, if we we have some injuries, it may be tough for us.”
Handling tough situations, though, may be a strength for a group that has shown Corn a tight bond throughout the preseason.
“I’ll say that the strength (of the team) right now is just the cohesion that they have,” he said. “It’s really good. It seems like everybody’s getting along. You’ve got, you know, a lot of different personalities but everybody seems to gel pretty well together.
“If we can keep that that mentality throughout the season, that will only build to be a stronger unit, and then eventually that will lead to success for us. If you’ve got good morale within the team, it just helps everything.”
Corn hopes the cohesion and experience will provide a boost during what could be a tough early-season schedule. West Henderson, Smoky Mountain, North Henderson and Franklin all posted winning records last season, with North winning the Mountain Seven 3A regular-season title.
Corn hopes that slate helps Polk County tune up for a Mountain Foothills 7 schedule that will include a talented Hendersonville squad along with potential title challengers at Patton and East Rutherford.
It all begins Wednesday as Corn returns to the Polk County soccer in a much different role than in his playing career.
“I’m nervous thinking about it right now,” he said with a grin. “It’s coming back, and I have no idea what the competition is like, so that’s kind of scary as well.
“I only can see what we have out here and hope that we can compete. And I think we can. We’ve got some intense players out here. If we can keep that intensity up, we can challenge any team, at least from my knowledge.”