WENDELL — It may be Michael Howes’ first season as the head coach of the East Wake boy’s soccer team, but it’s far from his first year coaching.
Howes coached 25 years of varsity soccer in Virginia and the Wendell Middle School educator is entering his 37th year as a teacher. Despite the 2-14-3 season the Warriors suffered last year, Howes is optimistic about his “rookie season,” as he called it, with East Wake.
“Our players are fully committed to this team and I’m just so pleased with the turnout we’ve had,” he said. “We’ve been practicing at about 7 a.m. every morning and the kids are coming out every single day.
“This feels like a team that’s ready to turn things around this year.”
Key players: The Warriors might not have quantity in their senior class – just two seniors return this season – but they certainly have quality in captain Jon Adams. The forward has a close relationship with Howes, being a sixth-grader when Wendell Middle School opened and playing for Howes until he was a freshman.
Adams is expected to lead the soccer team and has been working on placekicking for the football team as well.
“He’s a tremendously athletic kid who we expect to have his best season this year,” Howes said. “Jon has been a talented player for this team for several years and he’s going to be a key player for us this year.”
On the other side of the field, the Warriors will look to returning defender Cody Staples to lead. The already established wrestler brings a physical presence to the field.
“I love him as a player, but we just don’t want him to use any of those wrestling moves on the field,” Howes said jokingly. “He’s kind of at a disadvantage because he can’t use his hands, which is good because we don’t need those cards.”
Strengths and weaknesses: While the presence of just two seniors in Adams and Cesar Molina, a strong returning center back, may seem like a weakness, Howes sees it as a plus. The Warriors have multiple sophomores and juniors who will start. Even a lone freshman, Vicente Gallardo, according to Howes was, “Too good to not make the team.”
As for the weaknesses, Howes said he doesn’t like to look at the negatives when dealing with high school level athletes, but did point out that he wants to work with his players on closing out games.
Of their 14 losses, East Wake lost five by one goal and had three ties – a statistic Howes is looking to change.
“They lost a lot of close, heartbreaking games last season,” he said. “We’re going to be working all season on finishing and hopefully the boys can come out with wins in those close games.”
Expectations: Considering that the previous season ended with just two wins, the expectations for Howes’ first year will be to improve upon that.
Though the team isn’t expecting to go from the bottom of the conference to the top of the standings, it is a team built to not only have success this season, but also for many seasons to come.
“I think it’s pretty reasonable to expect more than (two wins) this season,” Howes said with a laugh. “I think if we can finish somewhere in the middle of the division, that would be great. Most of the boys will be back next season and it could be a fun season.”
Smith: 919-829-4841; @RCorySmith