Soccer comes out of hibernation

Published 11:55 am Saturday, November 22, 2014

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS OFF THE WALL: Kevin Vargas receives a pass as Stuart Hopper runs down the walled sideline to try to chase him down.

OFF THE WALL: Kevin Vargas receives a pass as Stuart Hopper runs down the walled sideline to try to chase him down.

Bone-chilling temperatures and frozen solid fields aren’t stopping local kids from playing their favorite sport. Rather, they’re simply bringing it indoors for the winter, taking to the artificial turf and walled pitch of Athletic Edge’s indoor soccer field — the first of its kind in Beaufort County.

Athletic Edge kicked off its indoor soccer league this month, drawing mostly kids who participated in the fall Optimist Club soccer league, which wrapped up three weeks ago. In its second week and first year of operation, the league has drawn over 80 kids from a variety of different age groups.

“It’s a faster-paced game that teaches them to pass the ball better,” said Athletic Edge manager Tracy Sheppard. “In Optimist, you can hit it down field. But in this league, where the objective is to keep the ball on the ground, you have to pass and communication is key.”

The field is condensed and enclosed by walls on all four sides. Unlike regular outdoor soccer, the goalie’s box is off limits for anyone who isn’t the keeper, forcing players to find the open space and pass the ball in transition. Taking a shot from beyond midfield is illegal and if a player kicks the ball in the air or outside of the boundaries, that player is forced to sit out for a minute, similar to a power play in hockey.

The league consists of 13 teams spread out across five different age groups, beginning with the 5-6 year olds and ending with the 13-16 year olds. And despite the age limitations, the facility has also drawn its fair share of adults, including Wesley Jones, who coaches an indoor team and has spent the last 12 years coaching for the Optimist Club. Jones, along with a collection of other adults, frequent Athletic Edge every Sunday to play a match.

“It helps the kids work on skills when the weather is not conducive to outdoor play, but really it’s all about giving the kids those small touches,” he said. “Obviously, with this field size, you learn a whole new concept. Everything is short, short, short.”

As a first-time indoor player, Jones takes what he learns from playing in he Sunday matches and applies it to his coaching.

“You use all these skills on a bigger field, but here it comes to life,” he said. “You have to keep your eyes open a little bit better. It’s quick, side-to-side movements. We do a lot of practices with the kids’ eyes closed to makes sure they’re not only playing, but knowing what’s going on around them.”

The six-week league is nestled in between the fall Optimist Club soccer season and the spring Athletic Edge volleyball league and wraps up on Dec. 20.

With such early success in the league’s and the facility’s inaugural year, as well as the number of kids on the waiting list, Sheppard plans on hosting another indoor soccer campaign next fall.