For two years, the Southeast Bulloch boys soccer team was a work in progress. A young team just a couple of seasons ago, the Yellow Jackets have taken their lumps, but are now poised to do damage as the 2012 season is upon them.
The group of freshmen and sophomores with raw talent is now a more polished, veteran squad with a battle-tested nucleus heading into another year together.
“We’ve got 12 seniors on this year’s team,” SEB coach Bob Massee said. “That’s a lot of guys to provide leadership and it’s something that I’ve seen a lot of.”
When the Jackets kick off the season Feb. 22 at Savannah Christian, they will do so with plenty of experience at all levels of the lineup and contend for the Region 3-AA title with Dublin and Bleckley County.
Senior Drew Ware will set up shop at his fullback position, and while he will be expected to keep opposing teams’ attacks from entering the 18-yard box, Ware is also key to the SEB offense. Packing a lot of power on both throw-ins and free kicks, Ware will factor heavily into the Jackets’ set pieces, which figure to be plenty dangerous.
“It’s a real nice thing to have when you can basically create corner kicks from farther out,” Massee said. “That was a big part of our offense last season. This year, we’ve got a very tough schedule ahead of us. We need to play with more skill and being able to pose a threat on set pieces is vital to that.”
Moving up the field, junior Sean Healy and senior Caleb Simmons will look to control possession and push the pace of play from their posts at midfield. Since taking over last season, Massee has encouraged his players to keep the tempo up, pushing the ball upfield quickly and putting the pressure on opponents to be able to get back and defend.
Once the ball is in the offensive zone, the Jackets shouldn’t have a problem finding someone to find the back of the net.
Junior Doug Flott, SEB’s biggest threat for the last two seasons, scored 23 goals last season. Although he isn’t the biggest player on the field, Flott’s explosive speed and deadly accuracy poses a huge problem for any team that lets him get loose.
Joining Flott at forward is sophomore Patrick Chambers. In his first varsity season, Chambers showed that he has great talent and should contribute even more after an off season’s worth of training and bonding with his teammates.
“Pressuring other teams will still be a big part of what we do,” Massee said. “But we also need to play in control. We can’t just run past everyone. This year, our offense is going to work hard to get it around and through the better defenses that we face.”
Last season, the Jackets began to make their move. After struggling early, SEB reeled off wins in six of their final eight games, including an impressive 7-3 victory over Berrien in the first round of the Class-AA state playoffs.
This time around, the goals are a bit higher.
“Last year gave us a lot of confidence,” Massee said. “I’m putting it to the team. They can settle for being a good team, or they can go try to be a great team. A lot of guys got their first taste of real success on the soccer field last year, and I don’t think we’re going to settle for not being our best.”
Almost a mirror image of the boy’s team, the SEB girls are also looking to take the next step in 2012.
Last season, the Lady Jackets compiled a 10-6 record, finished third in Region 3-AA and notched a state playoff win before bowing out. This year, SEB returns seven starters as they try to build on the success of 2011.
“We made some strides last season,” SEB coach Kristen Barnhill said. “We lost a few seniors, but we also have a lot of talent coming back. We just need to pick up from where we left off and move forward from there.”
To move forward this season, consistency will be key for SEB. Last season, the Jackets outscored opponents by a count of 38-6 in their wins, but faced a deficit of 20-1 — including five shutouts — in their losses.
“We need to be strong on defense,” Barnhill said. “Of our three seniors, all of them are at midfield or on the defensive side of the ball. We aren’t going to be incredibly flashy offensively, but we should be able to score goals. If we can play solid defense, that will put us in a good position to do well throughout the season.”
Despite losing some experience, the Jackets have to like the looks of how Region 3-AA is shaping up this season. Dublin and Screven County finished ahead of SEB last year, and while Dublin should remain strong, Screven has lost over 65 percent of its scoring from 2011.
If SEB can continue to improve, another playoff appearance — and perhaps a top seed — could be in the works.
“It’s going to be a talented region,” Barnhill said. “We have our work cut out, but I think that we can be a better team this season.”
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.