Tom Bolitho, special correspondent
The Ada News
Losing nine of 11 starters from the Ada High boys’ soccer team would normally be enough to give head coach Tom Morrison sleepless nights.
But Morrison thinks he has a good 2013 crew that will surprise opponents in the tough 4A-4 District.
“We had some great players last year, plus we made the playoffs and won our first-round match,” Morrison said. “We lost All-State striker Brooks Thompson, a terrific goalkeeper in Joseph Saaty and top defender Sam McCann. But in some important ways, we have a better team this year.”
Morrison said the 2013 Cougars might not have quite as much skill as the 2012 crew, but the boys are playing well together.
“I really like this team,” Morrison said. “They know how to play together and will outwork a lot of teams.”
Anchoring the Cougar squad this year are four senior leaders — Andrew Campbell, Taylor Owens, Homer Morales and Ryan Bond. This senior group, Morrison said, was providing excellent leadership and setting the tempo for the rest of the squad.
“We will be counting on our seniors to keep us on track and give us great effort,” Morrison said.
Campbell is the quarterback of the Cougar midfield. He is a smaller midfielder with good speed, excellent ball handling skills and understanding of the game. He is also the vocal leader of the team.
Working with Campbell at the midfield will be the speedy Chase Lott, a Cougar football running back, and Ukrainian move-in Ruslan Hinson. Lott has been away from the game for a while, Morrison said, but was displaying great improvement and closing speed. Hinson is developing, Morrison said, and offers good footwork and field vision.
Morales and sophomore James Stensen are competing for the last midfield spot, and both look to get plenty of minutes.
Morrison characterized the midfield as “fluid," and fans can expect to see key reserves at midfield.
Ada features a strong fullback line with seniors Bond and Dillon Holder. They are joined by sophomores Justin Latham, who offers solid defensive presence, and sparkplug Todd Penick. Bond is the defensive leader who will seek to direct the very high-energy Holder and Penick.
Holder, Morrison said, plays full tilt every minute of the match, was fast and showed willingness to do “whatever it takes” to turn back opposing strikers. Penick, he said, brings great experience for a sophomore and plays with intensity and excellent field awareness.
Up top at the striker position for the Cougars will be senior Taylor Owens and sophomore Tyler Degraw. Both boys are good finishers who have the striker mentality.
Morrison is obviously looking to boost the squad’s offensive punch.
The Cougars will run a traditional 4-4-2 (balanced) formation, but the team could have an offensive bias this season, a departure for the normally defensive-minded Morrison.
“I’ve always run a multi-stack, but this year we are probably going to be taking a few more chances to promote more scoring,” Morrison said.
At goalkeeper for the Cougars will be senior Spencer Beall. Beall, Morrison said, is inexperienced but working very hard at his position.
“Spencer must replace an exceptional keeper in Joseph Saaty,” Morrison said. “I really like what I’m seeing from Spencer. He is giving it everything he’s got, and you can just see him getting better. He is developing good field vision and he is not afraid to stick his nose in there.”
Two key reserve players will be joining the squad following basketball season. Seniors DeAngelo Dunn and Stephen Gamill offer unique skill sets. Dunn, a hard-hitting linebacker for the football Cougars and key sixth man for the basketball Cougars, brings tremendous intensity and defensive mindset at the fullback spot. The 6’8” Gamill will come in at the striker spot and figures to get plenty of set play opportunities for header goals.
Morrison figures to field a big roster of 30 players, which will provide junior varsity opportunities for many players.
“We have really benefited from our numbers,” Morrison said. “Having this many players lets us play a full junior varsity schedule and get valuable experience.”
Morrison said this year’s squad was doing everything right in preparation for the tough district schedule that includes Newcastle, Cache, Madill, Elgin and Southwest Covenant.
“These guys are putting in the work that will make them successful,” Morrison said. “They are doing the 6:30 a.m. workouts, the 300-yard shuttles, the agility drills, all the conditioning stuff. You can see this is a committed group of guys.”
Ada opens the season with a March 1 match at Noble. Ada’s first home match is set for March 5 versus Durant.