Wildcats work to keep dream season alive
Despite a heavy sleet falling on the South Summit High School field on Thursday afternoon, nearly every player on the Wildcat boys’ soccer team was out warming up nearly 20 minutes before practice started.
With their hoods drawn tight to avoid the stinging, BB-sized pellets, the Wildcats ran through their pre-practice drills, laughing and going about their business like it was a sunny, 70-degree day.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that the Wildcats are working so hard in such adverse conditions — after all, they’re currently 7-0 and have outscored opponents 36-3 this year. Coach Chris Burton, in his 10th year with the program (seventh as head coach), said the Wildcats’ work ethic is what stands out this season.
"That’s the beauty of this year," he said. "They want to be out here, whether it’s snowing or sunny or whatever — guys are out here early every day. Winning helps with that — everybody is a little happier when you’re winning — but they’re just hard workers and they want to win every game. You can tell by how they come to practice ready to go."
Senior captain Nathan Weller, the team’s center back, said the sleet was nothing new for the Wildcats.
"This is actually quite normal," he laughed. "Most of our games have been in snow, especially up here. A lot of practices have been in snow. I think that’s actually when we perform best now — in these kinds of conditions."
Of course, the Wildcats’ success goes beyond weather conditions and work ethic. South Summit features talented athletes all over the field — on offense, defense and in goal.
Junior Zeb Farmer leads the way for the offense and has scored in all seven games (12 goals total). Burton said Farmer’s jump between his sophomore and junior season has sparked the Wildcat offense.
"He just sees the field really well," Burton said. "He knows he’s one of the best players out there every time we take the field. He plays with a lot of confidence and knows that he can score when he has the opportunity."
On defense, Weller calls the shots and keeps the back line steady, Burton added.
"He’s the leader of the team," Burton said. "He directs the whole team and what’s going on out there. He and Jared Blazzard, our other captain, those two are really well organized and their goal is a shutout every game."
The key to South Summit’s success is cohesiveness between the offense and defense. Weller said the two units have been in harmony all year.
"Even though either the defense or offense might not be doing as well in a particular game, we always can rely on each other," he said. "That’s extremely nice to know. The offense this year has scored goals very early in games and that’s how we’ve done so well. After that, it’s easier to manage a game defense-wise."
But, Weller added, another big positive for the Wildcats is Nick Beasley, the team’s junior goalkeeper.
"Nick is actually the person that stands out from most of the other teams," Weller said. "Most other teams don’t have very experienced goalies. Nick is very good with his hands and he’s not afraid to go after the ball."
"Nick has made huge strides from last year to this year," Burton added. "He’s really technically sound and has taken on a leadership role back there. But the first thing I look at when I look at our success this year, honestly, is how strong our defense is. Nick’s made some outstanding saves, but there have been several games where the defense doesn’t even let the ball get back to Nick."
With the Wildcats firing on all cylinders, the players hope to have a long playoff run. After a string of tough losses in the 2A semifinals from 2008-2011, the Wildcats missed the playoffs in 2012, 2013 and 2014 before losing to American Leadership Academy 3-1 in last year’s quarterfinal round.
Weller and the older players on the South Summit team got their first taste of the playoffs last year and he said they’re determined to make a deeper run this year.
"The ultimate goal this year is definitely to get past the point we were last year," he said. "We did fairly well last year and had a strong team and did well in the playoffs, but it’s important, especially for the older kids on this team, to get past the point we got last year."
For Burton, who was coaching during the heartbreaking semifinal losses from 2008 to 2011, teamwork is the key to making this season one to remember.
"We’re playing more as a team this year than when we had those [semifinal] runs," he said. "I think if we are confident and keep playing together, we’ll get over that hump."
As Thursday’s practice officially got underway, DJ Khaled’s "All I Do Is Win" began playing on the loudspeakers. The Wildcats hope to continue living up to the theme of the song all the way to the 2A finals.
South Summit’s next home game is scheduled for Wednesday, April 6, at 4 p.m. against Layton Christian.
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