Quality, not quantity, is foremost on the mind of Polk County boys soccer coach Lennox Charles these days.
With almost 40 players in the Wolverine program this season, Charles doesn’t lack for options to fill out his starting lineup or varsity roster. But as the Wolverines prepare for Wednesday’s season opener at home against Smoky Mountain, the veteran coach admits it may take some time to find the right combination of players in this year’s group to replace the losses from last season’s Western Highlands Conference champions.
WHC player of the year Wil Rimer? Graduated. School career assists record holder Jeremy Allsbrook? Graduated. All-conference defenders Garrett Weicker and Brad Blackwell and all-conference outside midfielders Nate Smart and Tom Artmeier? Same.
Throw in the loss of Ewan Pratt, who moved out of the country, and the Wolverines are missing their top six scorers from last year’s team.
“It’s not just replacing a forward and a center midfielder and two outside midfielders and two center backs,” Charles said. “In terms of experience, Brad and Garrett were out there almost three years. Nate was there two full years. Jeremy was on varsity for three years. Wil, for three years. Experience wise, they’re all going to be tough to replace.
“We do have a few guys returning and some on the bench last season who are going to have to step up. We have good numbers.”
Perhaps no bigger task awaits Charles than finding a replacement for Rimer, who scored 40 goals last season in helping lead Polk to a 17-5-1 record and the third round of the state 2A playoffs. Senior Isaias Akers and sophomore Salvador Chavez are part of a group that will look to fill Rimer’s shoes at forward.
“Right now, there’s no one person who is going to fill that position,” Charles said. “At the start of the season, we’ll make up a lot of that as a group. We have some numbers that we can rotate up there, and it will be up to us to find out what the best combination is going to be.”
Returnees Sam Korzelius and Brett Phipps are likely to see time in center midfield while returning starters Carson Marshall and John Dougherty, along with Aaron Adams, bring experience to the back line.
“We hope some of those returning kids are going to raise their games a little bit,” Charles said. “We’ve also got a good group of freshmen. This may be the first time that we have more than one freshman on the varsity. There’s a good chance we’ll have more than one.”
Junior Wilson Edwards and sophomore Jonah Wyatt give the Wolverines experience in goal, Edwards starting most of last season and seeing action in 21 games while Wyatt made nine appearances.
“Hopefully, both will be a lot more comfortable in goal this year,” Charles said. “Last year, we just needed them to limit mistakes. This year, we may need them to make a couple of saves to keep us in games.”
Led by the gritty Rimer, Polk County wasn’t afraid last season to be physical with opponents. This year’s group, Charles said, may need some time to reach a similar position.
“We’ve never been huge, and we’re definitely not this year,” Charles said. “None of the freshmen are huge, none of the sophomores. A couple of the juniors have decent height. Isaias is really about the onl;y big kid we have. We’re not going to outmuscle anybody, so that’s going to take some adjustment.”
Charles again expects Hendersonville and Owen to be top contenders for the Western Highlands Conference title, and no doubt the Bearcats will be eager to claim one more WHC crown before they move into a new conference next season. While Polk County must overcome those graduation losses, Charles isn’t counting the Wolverines out of a repeat run at the WHC crown.
“It seems like a daunting task. We lost some very good and experienced people,” Charles said. “We’re going to have to do a lot more as a group to compensate until people get on the field and get settled.”