Staying one step aheadPublished 9:40pm Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Since becoming the Pam Pack head soccer coach in 2006, Jim Kozuch has been searching for ways to keep his players fresh and physically prepared for the taxing 20-game regular season every fall.
After years of offseason discussion between area coaches, West Craven’s Aaron Steele and J.H. Rose’s Jed Smith came together this spring to form a seven-on-seven high school soccer league, consisting of eight local teams.
“We wanted to get in on it to help develop our game during the summer,” Kozuch said. “We’ll get together, play some games and train a little bit, but there’s nothing that can replace actual game speed. We were happy to get in on it.”
Following an 18-2-2 finish in its inaugural season in the Eastern Plains Conference, the Washington soccer team travels to Greenville every Tuesday and Thursday night to take on a medley of 3-A and 4-A competition, including two South Central teams, Southern Wayne and South Lenoir. Class 2-A and conference foe North Pitt serves as the only other 2-A team in the league.
The shrunken rosters, shortened field and elevated level of competition results in a faster-paced game with increased scoring. Goalies are unable to punt and all goal kicks must be thrown in. Teams play 25-minute halves to avoid the common injuries associated with playing in the heat of summer.
“Because we’re playing with a smaller roster, our passing and ball control automatically improves and diminishes some of the problems we’ve had in the past,” Kozuch said. “Having only eight guys gives you fewer options, so you have to get your teammates the ball on two or three touches.”
Despite the inverted rules, the Pam Pack fully intends to make a statement in the league and have done so thus far, winning their first two games.
On Tuesday, Washington continued its winning ways, improving to 3-0 by knocking off South Lenoir, 7-1.
Just minutes into the game, Washington standout senior Lupe Barrera made his presence known in the midfield. After a quick turnover by South Lenoir, Barrera laid a perfect cross in front of goal for junior Kyle Hodges, who redirected the ball on net, forcing the Blue Devils’ keeper to make the save.
The Pack kept up their offensive onslaught minutes later with a tap-in goal by Leo Brown followed shortly by a beautifully placed bender from Barrera off a free kick. About eight minutes later from a practically identical spot on the pitch, Barrera fired off a 20-yard free kick that curled to the right of the goalie to put the Pack up 3-0 heading into the half, despite two late opportunities from the South Lenoir strikers.
In the second half, Brown and Barrera added to their total, the latter locking up a hat trick. Washington went on to win 7-1 and will play again Thursday at 7 p.m.
“For me, just like the guys, if you’re away from the game a little bit you get rusty,” Kozuch said. “You have to break things down and it gives me a good look at some players. I need to open my eyes, test some people out at different positions. It’s a huge step being able to do that now and not two weeks before we play our first game.”