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Boys soccer preview: Farragut

Though this is just a boys high school soccer preseason game, the level of intensity is high for Farragut junior Aaron Smalling, right, a defender who battles an equally intense Cookeville player for ball possession, using headers, during this Feb. 24 warm-up battle at FHS’s Farragut Intermediate School Field. (Look for previews of Hardin Valley Academy and Bearden High School boys varsity teams in next week’s farragutpress)
When Farragut High School’s boys soccer team opens its 2018 season Friday, March 16, at the Smoky Mountain Cup in Gatlinburg, it will begin a long, difficult journey. Head coach Ray Dover hopes the season ends at the Class AAA State Tournament in Murfreesboro in May.

“I want our guys playing their best soccer come [District 4-AAA] Tournament time,” said Dover, who will begin his third season at his alma mater when his team opens the campaign at the Rocky Top Sports Complex against Union High School out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. “We have to continue to work on the things that we were good at.

“We have a cohesiveness together, if you look at how well we communicate and how well we attack,” he added. “Our guys really get along well. And that’s important in soccer because it’s such a team sport. It also depends on how well we use our speed to attack.”

During their trip to Sevier County, the Admirals also play Davidson High School from Mobile, Alabama, starting at 9 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day morning, Thursday, March 15. Farragut closes tournament play against Father Ryan, a top program from Nashville.

Dover admitted he’s eagerly anticipating the match against the Irish.

“Father Ryan has a good program and I went to college with a lot of guys who played at Father Ryan. Some of those guys are coaching there now,” Dover said. “I’m sure that they’ve had that game circled on their calendar, as do I.”

Things won’t get much easier when the Admirals open the home portion of their schedule the following week.

Farragut hosts Webb School of Knoxville Tuesday, March 20, before entertaining Science Hill Thursday, March 22. Both matches will be contested at Farragut’s Soccer Stadium and opening kickoff for both games is slated for 7 p.m.

The Admirals, who went 18-6-1 in 2017 and won the District 4-AAA championship as a No. 3 seed, had regular-season league losses to Bearden, Maryville and Hardin Valley Academy.

Farragut, however, knocked off the Bulldogs and Rebels in the postseason.

FHS has several players back from last year’s squad that also won Region 2-AAA Tournament.

Top returners for the Admirals include: Wes Jeter (junior, midfielder); Aaron Smalling (junior, defender); Pablo Herrera (a captain and junior midfielder); Dillon Bihlmeyer (junior, defender); Zach Shopovick (senior, forward); Andy Taylor (senior, defender); Nathan Miller (sophomore, defender); Rivaldo Hill (senior, forward) and Brandon Keane (junior, goalkeeper).

Those veterans will be joined by a talented crop of newcomers including: Shayne Miller (a senior goalkeeper who joins the FHS soccer team after spending three years as bullpen catcher for the Admirals baseball team. He’s a veteran club player and Dover has named him a captain); Alec Arnold (junior, midfielder) and senior forward Keith Williams.

Dover said Farragut has depth at goalkeeper in 2018. Freshman Max Kaplan will play on the junior varsity squad this season, but he’s an up-and-coming star who has played varsity during the preseason.

In recent years, winning the regular season district title has carried an automatic regional bid.

That won’t be the case in 2018.

“We eliminated that because it just didn’t make sense,” Dover said. “But you want to win the regular-season because you avoid a potential knockout game [in the tournament semifinals] against Hardin Valley or Maryville.”