WEST JEFFERSON — There will be lots of new faces and young athletes on the field for the upcoming varsity soccer season.
Ashe County returns just five starters from last year’s squad and will have to replace both the team’s leading scorer (Victor Melo) and much of the defensive back line.
The Huskies will be very young this season with only five seniors expected to be on the roster, but head coach Wes Rousseau still feels good about how his new team is coming along.
“This is without a doubt the hardest working team and the best team chemistry we’ve had in probably three or four years,” said Rousseau. “We just have a lot of new players in a lot of new roles.”
Josh Brettschneider is the leading returning scorer and will lead the offensive charge from his center midfield position. Up front, Alec Roland will be making the move up from the JV squad and will be one of the top forwards up front.
Another player to keep an eye out for is Johnny Retezatu. He adds some varsity experience from last season and will play an important role this year.
“Johnny has played really well for us. He’s going to be playing all over the field sort of as a utility player,” Rousseau said.
With the influx of young talent on the squad means a shot for freshmen and sophomores to earn important spots on the team. Freshman Justin Lopez may very well be in line to be the next big time scorer for the men’s varsity squad. Lopez will see the bulk of his playing time up front in a forward position and though he is inexperienced, the talent is definitely there.
Ashe will also have to deal with some big changes on the back line.
Former defensive sweeper Dante Shuler moved to Florida and fullback Dylan Little is playing football this season, leaving two big holes to fill.
Last year’s goalkeeper Daniel Lipscomb will move into the sweeper position, leaving a two-man competition for the keeper spot.
Noah Blevins, who was the backup point guard for the Husky varsity basketball team last year, came out to compete for the goalie spot along with last year’s junior varsity keeper Harley Miller.
“Noah is really coachable and I think he’s going to get there. Harley is a little more schooled and did a great job on JV the last two years,” Rousseau said.
Rousseau said that while losing Shuler and Little will hurt, this is a good defensive team moving up from JV that will be working hard on that end of the field.
As usual, the Huskies are playing a tough slate of non-conference matches to prepare themselves for the conference season and for the state playoffs.
“Our conference traditionally being a split 1A/2A conference, some games aren’t quite as challenging. We try to load ourselves up on tough competition at the beginning of the season,” said Rousseau. “Playing really good teams in the non-conference portion gets you ready for the rest of the season. I think you get a lot more out of playing solid 4A, 3A and 2A competition like we typically do.”
The Huskies open the season on Monday at home against Watauga and follow that up with a home match against Avery on Wednesday.
The non-conference schedule continues at Hibriten on Monday, Aug. 29 followed by trips to Mitchell County on Sept. 7 and Watauga on Sept. 8.
Ashe will play host to Mount Airy on Saturday, Sept. 10 and host Surry Central on Thursday, Sept. 15.
Avery was the seventh seed in last year’s 1A state playoffs while Mount Airy was the 10th seed in the state and made it all the way to the state championship semifinals.
In the 2A bracket, Surry Central was the fourth overall seed last year. Hibriten (21st seed in 3A) and Watauga (10th seed in 4A) are also programs that continue to test the Huskies year in and year out.
In the conference for 2016, Starmount is expected to not only challenge for the MVAC Championship but is also expected to be one of the top 1A teams in the state. They fell to Mount Airy in the playoffs last season but bring back a lot of talent from that squad.
1A Preseason Rankings
1. Wallace-Rose Hill
2. North Moore
3. Lincoln Charter
4. Community School of Davidson
5. Franklin Academy
6. Raleigh Charter
7. Thomas Jefferson Academy
8. Mount Airy
9. Bishop McGuiness
11. Union Academy
12. Woods Charter
13. Granville Central
14. Queen’s Grant
2A Preseason Rankings
5. Surry Central
7. East Duplin
8. Central Academy of Technology & Arts
10. Ashe County
11. Wilkes Central
13. Polk County
15. North Johnston
3A Preseason Rankings
3. Chapel Hill
4. Wilson Hunt
7. Jesse C. Carson
8. Marvin Ridge
10. White Oak
12. A.C. Reynolds
14. Lee County
15. Cox Mill
4A Preseason Rankings
1. South Mecklenburg
3. Cardinal Gibbons
5. Green Hope
6. Lake Norman
8. E.A. Laney
9. William A. Hough
14. Middle Creek
15. T.C. Roberson
Nathan Ham can be reached at 336-489-3062.