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New Coach Brings High Hopes For Blue Devil Soccer

2019 Soccer Preview

 

August 15, 2019

The 2019 Brevard High School soccer team

It might be Craig Long's first season as the Brevard Blue Devils' head coach, but after spending time around the team over the past few years, the new head man is optimistic about the program and ready to embark on the 2019 season.

"I'm excited," Long said. "One of the reasons I took this opportunity is that I knew a lot of the kids from last season, and even though we lost a lot of seniors, I knew we had a very strong group of kids coming back."

Long brings with him a lengthy soccer résumé.

As an Ohio native, he taught and coached in the Buckeye State for seven years before moving to the mountains of Western North Carolina.

He joined West Henderson, where he taught and coached for 33 years before retiring five years ago, although he still coaches the Falcons' girls' soccer team.

Long assisted with both the junior varsity and varsity teams at Brevard over the past few years before taking over as the new head coach.

Doing so allowed him to get to know his personnel and build a rapport with the players he's now leading.

In preparing for this season, Long said the team had some great summer training sessions and believes that work will pay off when Brevard takes the field for its season opener against Tuscola on Monday.

"The team worked really hard over the summer during workouts and had a great turnout. Practices have been really spirited. So, I'm excited to get the season started," he said.

Long also believes the future is bright for the Blue Devils, citing TYSA as a great feeder system for youth players and building a "very promising" future for Brevard in years to come.

As for 2019, the Blue Devils are coming off a 10-10 season – their most wins since the 2012 campaign when they finished 12-5-1 and advanced to the third round of the playoffs.

But they lost nine seniors, including last season's leading goal-scorer Cullen Duval, as well as several other starters.

In discussing the style of play he would like to see on the field, Long said his team has worked on keeping quality possessions that create opportunities on goal.

"We talk a lot about team soccer, playing as a team and supporting your teammates. Making runs, good communication and playing possession. We've worked a lot on playing as a unit over the summer and the kids have really come around," Long said.

While Brevard lost a fair amount of players, they return some key pieces.

Connor Backes returns for his junior season after scoring 11 goals and recording a team-high 12 assists last season.

Other threats include a trio of seniors – Gabriel Buenrostro, Joey Bartles and Parker Grant – who combined for 25 goals and 23 assists last year.

Long said he would also be leaning on Brian Martinez and his defensive prowess, as well as Hiatt Gafnea, who takes over as the Blue Devils' goalkeeper.

Brevard starts the season with a slate of four road games. They have 13 games before kicking off the Mountain Six portion of the schedule against East Henderson on Sept. 30.

Over the past two seasons, almost all of the Blue Devils' victories have come against non-conference opponents, including six of eight wins in 2017 and nine of 10 wins in 2018.

Last year, Brevard started the season 6-0 and entered conference play at 9-1. Unfortunately, they weren't able to sustain that success and finished 1-9 down the stretch.

Hendersonville and East Henderson finished last season with an 8-2 conference record, with Smoky Mountain coming in third at 7-3.

All three teams made the playoffs and look to be the top contenders again this year. However, Long said he has confidence in his team and believes they can give opponents a run for their money.

"East Henderson, Hendersonville and Smoky Mountain are the three big ones. East and Hendersonville have had solid programs the past few years and I saw Smoky at a scrimmage recently and they looked really strong. I think we'll be able to compete and vie for a conference title. That's what I came here for," Long said.

So far, Long likes what he's seen from his team and believes a tough non-conference schedule will prepare them to make a push toward being at the top of the Mountain Six.

"Last year, we finished weak in the conference and we're looking to compete this year. I'm not saying that just to say it. We had a scrimmage the first week in August against some 3A schools and we were missing some kids, but we looked pretty good. We've scheduled some tough teams this year – Tuscola, West Henderson, North Buncombe. So, that should put us in a position to be ready for the conference schedule," Long said.

 
 

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