Despite earning a victory, Mount Airy head soccer coach Will Hurley was a little concerned about his team’s defense in the Granite Bears’ season opener on Monday.
As it turned out, he had good reason to be.
Starmount’s Andres Ocampo and Jeyson Pineda each scored four goals against a leaky Mount Airy defense on Thursday evening, turning what started out as a close game into an 11-2 blowout at Wallace Shelton Stadium.
The Rams (2-0), who were eliminated by Mount Airy in the fourth round of last year’s 1A state soccer playoffs, exacted full revenge in the rematch, keeping most of their starters in the game throughout and scoring twice in a 90-second span late in the match to invoke the nine-goal “mercy rule” with 3:23 remaining in the second half.
Hurley, whose 2016 team is much younger and less experienced than last year’s state semifinalists, watched the Bears get off to a strong start on Monday, when Mount Airy beat North Wilkes 7-2 in Hays behind two goals each from veterans Robert Brown and Malcolm Malone. It wasn’t, however, the kind of dominating performance that the Bears had put on all last fall.
“We had one kid back there trying to play everybody’s position tonight,” said Hurley. “The rest of us didn’t rotate or anything correctly. I kind of felt like we didn’t do that against North Wilkes, but offensively, we possessed the ball enough against them that we didn’t have to worry about it.
“I knew coming into this match that we might be in trouble, because they’re very explosive and only lost one kid from last year’s team. I knew how good they were.”
Still, Mount Airy (1-1) looked for a while like it might make a fight of it. Starmount was having little trouble finding the back of the net against the overmatched Bear fullbacks and sweepers, but Cooper Nester and freshman Bryan Valadez responded for Mount Airy and kept it close early on. However, the Mount Airy defense got shakier and shakier as the match moved along.
With about 30 minutes left to play and the Rams on top 7-2, Hurley waved the white flag and started to rotate in freshmen, but Starmount continued to press its advantage on the pitch and eventually ended the match a few minutes early.
“All I had out there at the end were freshman kids,” said Hurley. “It was a good experience for a lot of JV kids, and our JV goalie played most of the game. So that part’s good.”
Hurley knew there would be some rough patches as the Bears try to re-invent themselves after losing six senior starters off last year’s team, and said the team would simply chalk up this defeat as a learning experience. However, he also said they would need to tighten up the defense quickly, because the Rams are far from the last tough opponent they will face before starting conference play in about a month.
“It’s not going to get easier,” he said. “We’ve got Forbush and Wilkes Central and Ashe County coming up, so we’ve got to find ourselves.”
As for Starmount, which has 11 juniors and seniors on its roster, things couldn’t be much better in their quest to better last year’s 18-6 season. The Rams stampeded East Surry 10-1 in their opener on Monday and did nearly as well against the more highly regarded Granite Bears.
“So far, I like what I’ve seen,” said Starmount coach Cody Cook. “We’ve been working very hard conditioning-wise, so that we can go the full 80 minutes, and I didn’t see anyone getting tired today. It’s really paying off, because we were running at the end of the game just like we did at the beginning of the game.”
The Rams make the third stop on their four-match road trip to begin the season Monday evening at North Surry. Mount Airy will also return to action that evening, at home against North Wilkes.
Reach John via Twiiter at @johncate73.