COVINGTON - First-year Newton boys soccer coach Tim Hardison must be doing something right as he's got his team at 3-0 to start the season.
The Rams improved to 3-0 on Wednesday with a 1-0 victory over Douglass in less than optimal conditions in their Area 2-AAAAA opener. Freshman Harvey Soto scored the game's only goal with a header in the 23rd minute of the second half. The game was called with 5:30 remaining when the lights at Douglass field went out.
Coming off last year's Area 2-AAAA title, Hardison's squad has a chance to repeat with six players returning - striker Caleb Adamo, stopper Tim McGuinn, fullback Curtis Nolley, fullback Bryan Sandler, sweeper Matt Veal and keeper Alex Pace.
So far, Pace and McGuinn have stepped up not only as players, but as team leaders.
"The biggest thing I've learned is that we've got a couple of players that are really stepping up. Tim McGuinn and Alex Page have really stepped up their leadership as far as taking on the role of senior leaders," Hardison said.
Anybody that has seen Newton play knows how well Adamo plays and how quickly he can strike. But this year he's going to have some of the spotlight and pressure taken off him with the addition of Jonathan Triana, Blake Braswell and Soto.
"We've got some guys that have some pretty decent skills, can move the ball around and can put the ball in the back of the net, which is the main thing," Hardison said. "Scoring is pretty spread out as far as guys putting the ball in the net."
Triana is moving up from JV, while Soto is playing for the first time as a freshman. Braswell had played for the Rams but sat out last season.
In his first three games in the net, Pace has proven his worth. However, Hardison is counting on him to do more than just stop the ball.
"He's being aggressive and talking, getting the defense where they need to be and he's also doing a good job of seeing the whole field. When we come in at halftime, he's able to tell me what's going on in the middle," Hardison said.
With Veal and McGuinn successfully playing sweeper and stopper, Hardison is able to rotate several people at fullback.
"Bryan Sandler is doing an excellent job because he's a big body and he's not afraid to be physical with people," Hardison said. He also has skills to bring the ball up field once he's taken it from them. Then Andrew Kabue and Crisean Nelson are doing a good job of competing for playing time at that other spot. In fact, Crisean is playing well enough that he's going to give us the ability to move Kabue up to a wing position."
A big challenge for Hardison is finding the middle ground between the way he coached at Dublin, where he was an assistant coach, and doing things the way the seniors have done.
"If it gets to the point where we're not able to do it, then we're going back to do the things I feel more comfortable doing. So far it's worked out fine," Hardison said. "I like the way we're moving the ball around and the way they're working with each other."
Manny Fils can be reached at manny.fils@ newtoncitizen.com.
SideBar: At a glance
· Team: Newton boys soccer
· Coach: Tim Hardison (first season)
· Last year: 9-6-0 overall, 6-1-0 Area 2-AAAAA,
· Next game: Monday at North Oconee, 5:30 p.m.