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The Andrew Jackson Volunteers soccer team is hoping to improve on its 13-11-1 record and make a deep playoff run this spring.
The Vols, 8-5 entering the week and rated No. 7 in Class AA, have already defeated ranked opponents in Gilbert, Indian Land and Dillon.
AJ coach Marc Truesdale said the team’s strength is a positive team spirit and tough defensive play.
“We are by no means the most explosive team in Class AA soccer, but we can beat anyone when we defend well,” Truesdale said.
The AJ defense is bolstered by the play of junior keeper Daniel Stover and Luke Kennington, a sophomore all-region performer who was the team’s rookie of the year last season.
Stover is recovering from a knee injury and hopes to return by mid-April.
Kennington has played well with an 0.76 per match average.
The AJ defensive leaders include junior all-region players Brett Lucas and Brandon Neal. Lucas is a central defender who is vital to AJ’s success.
Neal is an all-out player who sports a ferocious left foot with two goals.
Junior Ryan Arioli is a defender along with foreign exchange senior students, Fred Pedersen (Denmark) and Oleg Nesterov (Russia).
Truesdale said Pederson has a “great soccer mind,” while Nesterov “reads the game well.”
Junior Jon Ussery will work at midfielder/defender. He has two goals and an assist this season.
On offense, senior Oliver Wall, an all-region pick last season, plays forward and in the midfield with six goals and four assists. Captain Kevin Hunter plays forward and has tallied seven goals and two assists.
Hunter is tall, making him great on headers and a good target man in the attack.
Junior wing Tyler Denkins is fast and capable of great play.
“I hope he really turns it on in the second half,” Truesdale said. Denkins has four goals and five assists this season.
Junior Joseph Harris and Denton Clements are key players in the AJ offense. Harris has scored six goals and two assists, while Clements has a goal and two assists. Clements is known for his passion for the game.
“He leads the team into every match with prayer,” Truesdale said.
Senior forward Raheem Hughes and junior Trevor Hammond, a forward, midfielder, will also be counted on for their offensive play.
Truesdale said four players, sophomores Nathan Dunlap, Cody Ussery and
Matthew Woods, are defensive contributors along with freshman Jacob Ware.
“We have to improve on set pieces and corners, if we want to make a deep
run in the playoffs,” he said. “We are blessed to have two players well over six feet in the box on every corner, but we just aren’t scoring goals from those situations.
“People should fear us on corners,” Truesdale said. “Right now I would chalk up corner kicks up as a weakness.”
Truesdale said the Vols are working to be a better passing team.
“I’ve seen it in spurts of beautiful play this season, but if we really want to contend we are going to need to consistently pass together with speed and purpose.”