Posted: Tuesday, March 19th 2013 at 2:45pm
Soccer: West Hall boys soaring but know that big challenges still ahead
By Morgan Lee Editor
West Hall's Alejandro Zamora, right, and Edwin Mendieta, left, battle for possession against Buford on Friday in the Spartans' 5-2 win over the Wolves.
OAKWOOD -- Andrew McCain thought he knew what he was getting in to when he inherited the West Hall boys soccer program.
“I knew the players we had were talented, and that we had the ability to be good,” said McCain, a onetime junior varsity coach for the Spartans, who took over from his former mentor when longtime West Hall boys coach Wolfgang Jager retired following the 2012 season.
Turns out he was only half right.
The Spartans are indeed talented -- but, as they’ve shown so far this season, they are far more than good and may be closing in on something more properly labeled as "special."
Currently 9-0 and ranked No. 2 in Class AAA, West Hall has dominated so far this season, including Friday’s 5-2 defeat of then-No. 5 Buford -- lending plenty of credence to Jager’s parting words to McCain.
“Wolfgang told me this team could go to state, and he wasn’t kidding around,” McCain said.
The way things are going, the Spartans may be hoping for more than just their first GHSA playoff appearance since 2009 -- when West Hall finished as Class AAA runner-up.
“My hopes and expectations were to have a successful season, and I’m thrilled with how things have turned out,” McCain said. “I didn’t expect this kind of amazing situation.”
Likewise, the Spartans’ players are continually re-assessing the 2013 campaign.
“They expected to be good, but I think they’ve really had a eureka moment this season,” McCain said. “It’s happened gradually though, and I think they’ve surpassed what they had hoped at the start of the year.”
West Hall has done so thanks to a great mix of talent and desire, precocious youth and wizened veterans and -- above all -- a desire to do everything in unison and for the betterment of the Spartan family.
“We’re blessed to have players with skills who work hard on the field and have their hearts in the game,” McCain said. “But I really try to foster the family vibe with this team. We want to make everyone accountable to each other, and these guys are doing that. They’re going out and playing for each other. That’s the main similarity between Wolfgang and I. We both concentrate on chemistry and the relationships between the players. Soccer is such a psychological game that if we can get everyone in the right place, that’s a huge help.”
Another huge help is a midfield and defense that work hard to provide a platform for a deep and talented strike force.
Featuring seniors Pedro Perez and Edwin Mendieta, junior Alejandro Zamora and freshman Cesar Villa, the Spartans thrive on squeezing opponents out of space in midfield and denying opposing attacks the opportunity to develop any rhythm. Sophomore sweeper Eduardo Magana and junior goalkeeper Frankie Vasquez also marshall a defense that has allowed just four goals so far this season.
And when West Hall gets the ball back, the Spartans are more than capable of retaining possession -- and feeding the ball to an explosive attack that is scoring just over five goals per game.
“They’re so very dangerous; they all work at winning the ball, and they distribute it so well,” McCain said of his midfield and defense. “They’re like a security blanket out there. We never feel unsafe.”
Normally a possession-oriented team, West Hall soaked up some early pressure from Buford and then hit back with lightning-quick counter-attacks.
“We weren’t dealing with our usual formula at Buford, but that game showed our ability to adapt, and I think that will be important moving forward,” McCain said. “We’ll have to be able to do that as the region schedule moves on.”
That schedule is far from finished throwing challenges at the Spartans, as West Hall will face top 10 showdowns in each of its next two Region 7-AAA matches, taking on No. 5 East Hall on Friday in Rabbittown before traveling to No. 4 Dawson County the following Tuesday (March 26). There are also remaining battles with perennial playoff foe North Hall and cross-town rival Johnson -- which, although no longer a region foe (the Knights are in Class AAAA), will likely retain plenty of bite.
“It’s going to be real tough over the next few weeks; there’s going to be a lot of intense games,” McCain said. “The next three games will be crucial for us in the region with East Hall and Dawson. But we’re just going one game at a time and treating each one like it’s the most important. We look at each game as crucial.”
Certainly each of those teams will now look at the West Hall fixture as such, and McCain is just happy to be along for the ride, as the Spartans look to reclaim a spot at the top of the always-competitive battle for soccer supremacy within Hall County.
“It’s like we’ve got our own little region in the county, and each of those games are important,” McCain said. “It’s pretty intense.”
So far, West Hall is showing its got the credentials to match.
© Copyright 2013 AccessNorthGa.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.