The Mount Airy soccer team set a new standard of winning last season. The goal for 2016 is maintain the high level of success in the Northwest Conference and the NCHSAA playoffs.
The Granite Bears went 19-6-1 in 2015 and were conference co-champions with Bishop McGuinness. Mount Airy advanced to the Western Regional final of the state playoffs before suffering a tough 6-1 loss to the Community School of Davidson.
Despite some similar expectations for the upcoming season, Mount Airy might look like a completely different team, according to head coach Will Hurley. Last year’s Bears looked to overpower opposing teams with their offense, but this season, Mount Airy will need to rely on experience and discipline.
“We went right after people last year because I knew we could score,” Coach Hurley said. “This year you might see us be a little more defensive and not take as many chances. I think we can still score some goals, but it won’t be at the same rate.”
The biggest reasons for Mount Airy’s change in play this season are the departures of forwards Jeremy Chappell and Jose Perez. The two forwards combined for 67 of the Bears’ blistering 141 goals in 2015.
Fortunately for Hurley, he does have some experience returning up front in the form of sophomore Austin Tumbarello, who scored 23 times in his freshman campaign.
Austin could receive help this season on offense from his brother, Jackson Tumbarello. Jackson has been working all over the field in preseason practices and scrimmages, but Coach Hurley hopes to move him up front once the regular season starts.
“You would think that brothers work well together, and they sure do,” Hurley said. “Jackson has played some defense right now as we wait for a couple defenders to step in, but the goal is to have him and Austin forming a nice connection in front of goal.”
Another freshman could make an impact up front for the Granite Bears. Bryan Valadez has really impressed Hurley in practice and is showing a lot of skill in the same spot Perez played last year for Mount Airy. Bryan Hernandez also could see time at forward after serving as the backup goalkeeper last year.
However, the heartbeat of this Granite Bears team will stem from the midfield. Junior Robert Brown and senior Malcolm Malone are both in their third year on the varsity team and have a firm grasp on the center-mid spots in 2016. Both Brown and Malone can make a difference on offense and defense while also providing leadership in the locker room.
“It’s really special to have those guys back,” Hurley said. “They’re both dangerous from free kicks and Malcolm’s abilities from track have made him a guy that can throw the ball in a country mile from the sideline.”
Brown and Malone scored their fair share of goals last year, combining for 15, but Hurley doesn’t want to place that scoring burden on his two midfielders this season. Instead, the Mount Airy coach hopes other players step up so Brown and Malone can stay focused on their roles in the center of the field.
Hurley expects players like Cooper Nester, Matthew Dodd and Julio Contreras to fill out his midfield and provide good speed on the wings.
A pair of seniors will anchor the Mount Airy back line this year. Daniel Garcia and Wesley Frye both gained plenty of experience last season, and are looking to take the next step in 2016. Garcia will play in the center of Mount Airy’s defense, while Hurley is still deciding if Frye will play up the middle or on the left.
Other Mount Airy players who will provide minutes on defense this season are Simon Cawley, Chris Cogdill and Anselmo Salazar.
Organizing the defense from the penalty box will be senior goalkeeper Jesus Orozco. This will be Orozco’s second season starting between the posts from Mount Airy.
“He really did an awesome job last year and he’s worked hard this summer to continue his improvement,” Hurley said. “His punting is better than I’ve ever seen.”
Mount Airy gets things started Aug. 15 on the road against North Wilkes. The Bears return home for two games later that week against Alleghany and Starmount.
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16