WEST JEFFERSON — A new season is on the horizon for the Ashe County Huskies boys’ soccer team, with changes from top to bottom having settled in after a playoff-appearance season in 2018. The 2019 season will feature a new head coach, starting striker and back line, but still holds the same, high expectations the team has for itself.

Head Coach Paul Winterton took over the role from the then-retired Sam Piercy after last season. Winterton also serves as the head coach for the girls’ team and leads the boys’ junior varsity team for the time being. After initially finding trouble in filling out his staff, Winterton managed to get Piercy back in the fold as an assistant coach. He is also joined by Brad Lyall, who will take over the head coaching role with the JV team after completing some license work.

Winterton is a familiar face for the players, but he is also the third coach in as many years, following Piercy and now-East Wilkes basketball coach Wes Rousseau. Winterton said he’s not looking for the players to have a fourth coach next season.

Winterton is sticking with his preferred 4-1-4-1 formation, with senior Chris Luna taking up the lone striker role. Luna is replacing Huskies legend Alec Roland, who graduated with more than 100 goals and the record for career goals by a male athlete. Winterton said he is not looking for Luna to directly replace Roland’s output, but that it will take a team effort to replace that much production.

“I think he matured a lot over the summer, we’ve had a lot of conversations and I think he’s actually trying to slow it down and not put so much on himself,” Winterton said. “I think he’s finally realized that he can rely on his teammates and it’ll open him up for a better shot.”

One of the two players behind Luna will be Justin Lopez, playing a number 10 role and being a primary creator for the team. Lopez played inside, on the wing and occasionally up front last season, but Winterton said he is looking to take advantage of Lopez’s eye for the pass and goal-scoring capabilities in the attacking midfielder role. Lopez showed his eye for scoring last season, finishing second on the team with 13 goals and led the team in assists with 12.

The team will have to cope with the temporary absence of senior Max Pacheco, who was their third leading scorer last season. Pacheco injured his right hand during the off-season, and Winterton said the winger will be out until mid-September.

On the other end of the pitch, the team is dealing with the rebuilding of their back line. Last year’s starters Brian Zheng, Jason Durr and Adrian Arado graduated, leaving the door wide open for players to step up. Winterton said Shawn Bast, Mason Combs, Christian Ramos and Tatum Brown are his expected line, but has toyed with the idea of moving Trent Baker to fullback as a two-way option. Also helping out will be Alex Luna, who will play as a defensive midfielder in Winterton’s scheme and alleviate some of the pressure off of the line.

Behind them, Matt Potter and Isaac Miller are a one-two punch of goalkeeping styles. Potter, a junior, is agile and quicker to get down, while Miller possesses the strength necessary to punch away contested balls and block shots with ease. While both have pros and cons for the starting role, Winterton said he’d prefer consistency in the net.

“A rotation would be nice, but I’d like to have a solid starter,” Winterton said.

Supplementing the varsity roster, which can barely field a starting lineup and bench, will be the JV team that Winterton said has a lot of potential. Winterton said he’s liked what he’s seen out of John Perkins, Montana Lopez and Baxter Glover especially. He said there is currently three or four players he could see getting quality minutes for the varsity roster, but he wants more of them to push for it.

Despite every change the team has had and the questions still hanging over them, Winterton has a simple expectation for the team.

“Finish top of the conference,” Winterton said. “They’re wanting it pretty bad. I think once they get rolling like the way they should, I don’t think there’s many teams in our conference that’s going to stop them.”

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