The boys’ soccer team at Hough High has a simple philosophy.
“Two more wins, two more wins,” sophomore forward A.J. Whisenant said. “We’ve gotten to the semifinals two years in a row. This year, we want to break down the door.”
If the Huskies are to get to the state championship game, a lot will depend on how Whisenant performs.
“We have a lot of weapons this year,” Hough High coach David Smith said. “But (Whisenant) is obviously going to be a key part.”
Whisenant is the leading returning scorer from last year’s team, which finished 20-4-1 after losing to Pfafftown Reagan in the NCHSAA 4A state semifinals.
An early-season call-up from the junior varsity team after injuries left the Huskies shorthanded, Whisenant went on to make an effective 1-2 scoring punch with teammate C.J. Bradley.
Whisenant finished the season with 25 goals – second to Bradley’s 27 – and was the only freshman player named to the N.C. Soccer Coaches Association’s all-state team.
Now without Bradley, himself a two-time NCSCA all-state selection, the burden shifts to Whisenant, who often drew double teams from opposing defenses last year.
Having that target on his back is something Whisenant relishes.
“There’s a target on my back, as well as the whole team,” Whisenant said. “Last year, I got used to being double-marked. It’ll be like that a lot this year.
“But if there’s two people marking me, then that leaves someone else open. I’ve just got to read the field and see what I can do when I’ve got the ball at my feet.”
Whisenant won’t be alone. Smith said this year’s Hough team could be one of the deepest he’s coached since the school opened in 2010.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are capable of putting the ball in the back of the net,” Smith said. “From top to bottom, this is the deepest roster we’ve had yet.”
In addition to the returning players from last year’s team (11 seniors and seven juniors), the Huskies get back three players who had spent last year away from the team.
Junior forward Evan Ashbrook and senior forward/midfielder Jayson Howard spent last season with the Carolina Rapids’ year-round academy program, while senior forward/midfielder Alex Vazquez, who played for Hough as a freshman and sophomore, transferred back after spending his junior year at a high school in Georgia.
Still, the season will also depend on how opposing teams defend Whisenant.
“That’s good for him, and for us,” Smith said. “It’s going to allow other people to be open. Teams have to make a choice – do they want to focus more on (Whisenant), or defend us equally and take their chances on him making a tremendous play?”
All that makes Whisenant think getting those two more wins could be achievable. However, he also wants to remember what it was like to fall short last year.
“I think we’ve got a chance to do something special this year,” he said. “But (last year) has to be in the back of our minds.
“Once we get there, we’ve got to realize the feeling that once we lose, it doesn’t feel very good. So we want to remember that feeling, so we don’t get it again.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.