By David Rogers. August 11, 2018. BOONE, NC — An upperclassmen vs. underclassmen arrangement simply would not have worked in dividing teams for Saturday’s Black & Gold match to formally kickoff the Appalachian State Men’s Soccer program’s season at Ted Mackorell Soccer Stadium. With only four upperclassmen on the 2018 roster, even though highly talented it is unlikely they would have prevailed against 24 younger, but equally talented athletes.
COVER IMAGE: Blowing Rock native Jake Chasteen leaps high to snag a shot on goal during Saturday’s “Black & Gold” soccer match. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
There are several ways to organize an intrasquad scrimmage: underclassmen vs. upperclassmen, starters vs. reserves, “A” side offensive players and “B” defenders vs. “A” defenders and “B” offensive guys, etc. Maybe it’s by the geographic footprint of the players’ hometowns, North vs. South or East vs. West.
But head coach Jason O’Keefe and his coaching staff used a tried and true format for crafting what would otherwise be an intrasquad scrimmage as arguably the most challenging test of skills for the athletes — and entertaining for the many parents, friends, faculty and other Mountaineer teams caring to watch.
And what the spectators got to watch was 90 minutes of a fast-paced, often thrilling men’s soccer match that lays a good foundation for the Mountaineers’ upcoming regular season.
“We wanted the teams to be as even as possible,” O’Keefe explained to Blowing Rock News afterward in describing the format. “We wanted everyone to feel comfortable and we wanted all of the players to be in a position with which they are familiar. There were some partnerships or relationships that we wanted to acknowledge but, to be honest, the first priority was to split it as evenly as possible. Tonight was about building relationships.”
Relationship-building is, of course, a large part of team-building and O’Keefe and his staff have as much of that to do with the 2018 edition of Mountaineers as teaching them how to play soccer up to their expectations. That’s because this is a very young App State side, with 15 freshmen (including one redshirt freshman) and nine sophomores to go with just three seniors and one junior.
While the “Gold” team arguably displayed a higher level of instinctive, one-touch passing to attack space and perhaps even more speed and quickness in getting there, it was the “Black” side that prevailed on Saturday, 1-0, in the Appalachian State Men’s Soccer program’s annual intra-squad scrimmage at Ted Mackorell Soccer Stadium.
Credit the Black team’s senior goalkeeper and Blowing Rock native Jake Chasteen for turning away six Gold shots, including two athletic saves that saw him leap high above his defender teammates, as well as would-be Gold attackers to snatch balls centered from the wing or lofted toward the goal from the back. Chasteen was the ultimate field general, eyes scanning the field before barking words of caution about vulnerabilities developing in the Black defense.
In the end, it was sophomore midfielder Justin Pruitt’s goal just 15:44 into the game that was the difference maker. Freshman midfielder Aldo Tarantini (Houston, TX, Bellaire HS) settled the ball on the left wing, then lifted a crossing pass to the far post where the ball found the feet of Pruitt. The second-year native of Matthews, NC (Weddington HS) promptly drove the ball past the Gold goalkeeper to take the 1-0 lead.
“The goal came as a result of really good team play,” Pruitt said in recalling the moment for Blowing Rock News. “The ball was directed out on the wing into space and Aldo delivered a nice long cross to the center. I just happened to be the one who was in the right place at the right time. It was a great team effort to produce that goal.
“This program is really headed in the right direction,” Pruitt added, acknowledging the youth movement. “The coaches have brought in a lot of very talented freshmen who bring a lot to the table. We are all competing to be among the top two teams in the Sun Belt at season’s end.”
O’Keefe was quick to affirm that the 2018 edition of the Mountaineers is extremely talented.
“We’ve got a lot more soccer (on this roster) than we have during my time,” noted O’Keefe, entering his third year at the helm of the men’s soccer program. “Everyone on this team is competent around the ball and everyone has a good soccer IQ.
“We take away from this,” concluded O’Keefe, “that we have the deepest team we’ve had in the past two years. We have a lot of competent players and we are very excited. We haven’t achieved anything yet and have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are trying to restore the great tradition of men’s soccer that has been at App State for decades. It may have fallen on hard times at one point, but we are working hard to get everybody excited about men’s soccer at Appalachian. These guys work hard. They just show up and work hard. For this early, our fitness level is pretty good.”
Reflecting back on his career at App State and looking forward to its final season, Chasteen told Blowing Rock News, “It’s been a real blessing and perhaps even unique to have been able to stay in Boone and continue playing in this community. Of course, I grew up playing in High Country Soccer Association programs.
“I am really excited about this season,” he added. “I think we will have more power, attacking wise.”
The excitement for the upcoming season and what it might bring was not lost on freshman midfielder Alex Hernandez, who was very active in helping mount Gold team attacks during the match. The native of Asheboro who posted straight A’s, academically, his freshman, junior and senior years at Asheboro High School while rolling up soccer accolades with the USSDA Fusion chose App State over several other North Carolina area schools.
“I feel I made the best choice to come here to Appalachian State,” said Hernandez. “Now that I have met the team and seen how we play, I feel like I have joined a great soccer family. I like the type of soccer that we are playing.”
That O’Keefe and his team leaders are building that “family” atmosphere quickly with this club was evident at the very end, AFTER the final whistle had blown and the two sides came together as one team. A team captain finished his remarks by noting a teammate’s birthday, prompting a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” and a couple of players rushing over to the trainers’ table to retrieve a bucket of Gatorade for a good (team-building) dousing of the unsuspecting celebrant.