Nine months have passed since the Loudon High School Redskins last took the field, and the team is itching to lace up the cleats and don the Power L.
However, several weeks of inclement weather threw a wrench in the team’s preseason practice and conditioning plans.
“I guess we lost a whole week of outside practice, but I’m sure everybody did, but we’ve had pretty good conditioning. I think the guys are in shape and ready to go,” Yoni Espinoza, LHS head soccer coach, said. “Right now, we’re starting to get wider spaces.”
The Redskins got their first taste of action Saturday in a preseason play day in Knoxville.
“We played this weekend and you could tell we had not hit the field, we were not very wide at all,” Espinoza said. “To be the first game, I think the team we played really, really showed us what we needed to work on. They did the runs that we were expecting them to do and the way we were adjusting to it, we were a little slow, so we’ve got to work on what we do without the ball. I think we’ve got a good group to get it done. ... I think we’re going to be very solid in the back.”
The Redskins are coming off a successful year that yielded another district and region championship, as well as a Class 2A state playoff berth. Loudon has advanced to the state playoffs the previous two seasons and appeared in the Class 2A state championship game in 2018.
Espinoza gradually built the program over the last few seasons and has set a championship standard.
“So when in the earlier years of coaching at the school, we were always talking about, ‘Hey, we need to get to the No. 2, No. 3 spot in the district so that we can go into the championship game, trying to get into the championship in the district’,” Espinoza said. “Now, with all these guys playing at the level that they’re playing, it’s, you know, the talk is, ‘Hey, we’ve got to be at state. We’ve got to expect ourselves at state and compete in state.’ Last year, we were one-and-out, and we were not very happy with that. We’re going to work on what we think we need to get to that next step and, hopefully, fight for another state championship.”
Although Espinoza’s teams were full of talent in those two seasons, he believes this year’s team has more experience.
“I think this is the year that we’re going to have more experience for a while, so we lost a lot of talent the past two years, but I think as a whole, these guys have been playing together quite a bit,” he said. “I have a very experienced team this year and hopefully we’ll get some leaders out of them, and that will make the season a lot easier for me.”
The Redskins will be upperclassmen heavy, led by Alfonso Vega, Cherinet Feezell, Arturo Lopez, Oscar Vega and goalkeeper Noah Feezell.
“This team has played together since middle school, and some of us have even played before that, so we know each other very well, we know each other’s playing style and we’re set up do very well this season,” Noah Feezell said. “Being a senior this year, I’m needing to show the younger guys exactly what their job as a keeper and kind of keep them focused on where they should be.”
Vega served as a team captain last year and will be one of the go-to players again.
“I want to motivate and have something that everybody can enjoy ... step up to the plate and have the responsibility of, you know, pushing everybody and, hopefully, it all works out,” Vega said.
The Redskins should boast one of the deeper benches in District 5-2A.
“We have the potential to do that, I believe, and I believe most of these guys believe that, too,” Vega said. “We have a lot of depth, so I think that’s going to help out a lot. We have like seven seniors that are starting now, so we have a lot of experience and the chemistry’s there. Hopefully, we can build off that and take it game by game.”
Loudon lost two major scorers in District 5-2A Most Valuable Player Francisco Aguilera and All-County selection Jesus Garcia. However, the Redskins will still have plenty of firepower from wings Cherinet Feezell and Juan Diego.
“On the wings, we’re going to rely a lot on the wings and they’re going to have to work really hard — the same goes for the whole team,” Vega said. “The wings are going to be a big asset this season, that’s what we’re going to build on that’s where the hard work’s going to come in.”
The Redskins will face an early preseason test Feb. 28 when they travel to take on District 4-3A power Hardin Valley Academy before officially kicking off the season at 6 p.m. March 13 at South Doyle High School.
“I think being realistic, I mean, as we go through the season, we’ll find out more and more about how committed we are,” Espinoza said. “I think as experienced as we are, I think we would be able to fight for the championship this year — that’s what I expect them to be at.”