Greenback soccer still building

Greenback School senior Blain Mashburn attempts to score a goal in practice Thursday.

Building an athletic program from scratch isn’t easy, but Greenback School head boys soccer coach Rob Fox is embracing the challenge as the Cherokees prepare for their third season.

“The first year was, obviously, a struggle like any first-year program, but our biggest challenge, our second year, was probably harder than our first,” Fox said. “We lost a lot of the kids that came out and were really instrumental in starting the program. They graduated, so we ended up starting over in a lot of ways. This year, I think we may be turning a little bit of a corner. We’re getting some kids that are really committed and have been working on their own since probably November.”

Many players have put in hours of work outside of practice to prepare for the season. Fox is also encouraged by the depth.

“They’ve been doing everything they can and they’ve probably been out here so much that they’re driving the administration crazy with how often they’re out on the field, but they’re really working at it and they’re trying to get better,” Fox said. “Our numbers are a little bit better, for Greenback, we’ve got 19 rostered, which is that’s a lot better than last year. A lot of time for games, we ended up with exactly 11, which makes it tough.”

Senior Colton Casto will serve as team captain and is expected to be one of the better players in District 4-1A this season. He signed his letter of intent Friday with Tennessee Wesleyan University.

One of his many roles will be to take inexperienced players and underclassmen under his wing.

“We have a lot of new guys because Greenback just isn’t a huge soccer community and we’re still building, so most of the guys on the team don’t really know how to play,” Casto said. “Even with everything that’s been going on, I still have a feeling this might be the best season we’ve had since we’ve started. To succeed and be good, it takes more than just showing up, so I’ve been trying to lead off that. Every chance I get, I come out here and kick around and dribble around and teach the guys everything that I know so I can help them.”

Senior Blain Mashburn is a returning starter but has only played soccer two years. He surprised Fox last season as the Cherokees’ most versatile athlete as goalkeeper. Mashburn was also a dynamic athlete on the hardwood for Greenback the past two seasons.

“Last year, compared to basketball, a lot of things transferred over from basketball, such as playing on the field defensive-wise, which is where I was put,” he said. “This seems to be a whole lot more of a team sport. There’s a whole lot more communication in this than basketball, so I learned that really quick.”

Fox expects Mashburn to have an even bigger role this year.

“Blain doesn’t have much (experience), but he is just a pure athlete. I mean, his athleticism is beyond anything we’re used to, really,” Fox said. “He’s doing a great job because this is his second year of playing, but you’d think it’s his fifth. He’s just that good of an athlete.”

Fox will rely on returning starter Mark Astudillo, Dakota Garland and Alec Perry.

“Colton and Blain are two of our bigger ones, but Mark is going to be an instrumental player for us — he’s very athletic,” Fox said. “Dakota is a forward. He’s going to be very helpful for us. All those players are the ones I’m going to be depending on heavily. We have Alec Perry, who is Vince Perry’s brother, so he’s going to help us. He’s a little fresh, he’s a little new, but he’ll come along.”

Although the Cherokees will be widely inexperienced, the team is more athletic.

“Obviously, foot skill is going to be more of a difficulty for us because a lot haven’t played soccer, but right now we definitely have a lot of athletes on the team,” Casto said. “Like last year, a lot of the new guys didn’t even play sports, so it’s hard to make that adjustment. Some of these guys, they’re out of wrestling, football, basketball ... all these new guys, they’re coming in fresh, and that’s a big thing that killed us — we didn’t have hardly any subs.”

Sweetwater High School is expected to repeat as District 4-1A champions, but Fox believes his squad has the potential to upset a few teams and compete for the district title.

“This year, ultimately, I would like to get to the district championship game. That would be a big step for us,” he said. “Sweetwater’s the team to beat in this district. I mean, they’ve been monsters the last two years. I don’t know what they’re going to be this year, I assume they’re going to be strong this year. ... We felt like we’re in closer competition with Polk County and with Bledsoe County, so I’d like to see us continue that and competing with them.”

The Cherokees took on Cosby High School on Tuesday after presstime. Their next match will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at home against Polk County.