United Front

Club background key to future of Lady Rebel soccer

It was there in the way Ariel Kupritz split a pair of defenders with a nifty pass to herself on the way to goal.

The skill, the speed, the size . . . this kid’s going to be nice.

You saw it in the way fellow freshman Morgan McCord shut down a Bearden breakaway with a sure tackle, a vivid display of Maryville growing tired of being pushed around.

The odds were stacked against the Lady Rebels springing the upset Tuesday night. Bearden (19-1) is the state’s marquee program for girls’ soccer, the Lady Bulldogs striking for a pair of goals in the opening half, three more in the second 40 minutes, to end Maryville’s season with a 5-0 shutout in a District 4AAA tournament semifinal.

Check back in a year or two. Maryville coach Bill Stooksbury has a freshman class unlike any the school may have ever known.

“The future’s bright if we can keep these girls together,” he said. “I’m looking forward to coaching the next four years.”

Tuesday’s loss withstanding, Stooksbury has reason to feel good about the future of Maryville girls soccer. McCord and Kupritz were two of five freshmen to start Tuesday. Seven took their place among the first 11 in a quarterfinal win over Lenoir City last Saturday. Ten made the varsity this season.

It’s the soccer history behind those 10 that makes them unique.

Club soccer and strong middle school feeder systems have contributed greatly to the dominance of Bearden, Farragut and Christian Academy of Knoxville in area soccer through the years.

The middle school program at Farragut encompasses four teams split between the two grades. The same holds true for Class AA Christian Academy, which ended the season for Alcoa’s Lady Tornadoes on Tuesday, 6-0.

Maryville Middle School, by comparison, fields only a single team.

“They’ve just got so much to choose from,” Maryville Middle coach Andy Kerr said.

It’s with the club game where Bearden and Farragut have made the greatest strides, though.

“That’s where we have an advantage,” Bearden coach Eric Turner said, “and Maryville is getting there.”

Encouraging for the Lady Rebels, Kerr’s entire roster this season was comprised of players from area clubs. There’s just one thing.

“All the Farragut girls,” Kerr said, “play for the same club.”

That’s why Stooksbury’s terrific 10 freshmen mean so much to the future of Maryville soccer.

Five of them were club teammates at Blount United as 10-year-olds, the team coached by Ariel’s father, Garth. The other five have been with different clubs just as long. To have such a group reach the high school at the same time is significant.

“We grew up together,” Ariel Kupritz said. “We know how each other plays, and that helps a lot.”

Since launching Blount United when Ariel was 9, Garth Kupritz has since built United into a club program encompassing 18 local teams, with another seven in nearby Sevier County.

“It’s come a long way,” Garth Kupritz said, “but there’s still a long ways to go.”

You just have to be careful, Stooksbury said. Burnout is a very danger in playing the game year round.

“It’s a fine line,” he said.

It’s more than shared soccer backgrounds that bode well for the Class of 2013. This year’s senior class played a critical role in introducing the rookies to the high school game gradually. You miss a Hillary Wilson, Stooksbury said, no matter who’s coming back.

“She’s just a warrior and a great leader,” he said.

Passing the program down to players like Kupritz, Wilson said, makes her feel good about the program.

“She always gives 100 percent,” the Lady Rebel senior said. “I wish we could have 11 just like her.”

The junior and sophomore classes, which includes Stooksbury’s daughter, Hannah, a junior, have the combined scoring to carry Maryville that much closer next season. The talented Kupritz poured in a team-leading 17 goals this season. Just as important, the Lady Rebels had six players — seniors Liz Chandler and Caitlyn Templeton, Aly Carnes, Anna Land, Hannah Stooksbury and McCord — tally at least four goals this fall.

There’s no mistaking Kupritz is the key to it all.

“If she maintains her intensity and love for the game, just her consistency, she can play Division I college ball,” Bill Stooksbury said. “She has the capability to be an outstanding soccer player.”

Kupritz, however, is sure to draw two and three defenders with every match next season. The Lady Bulldogs doubled the Maryville standout on Tuesday.

Only a program truly United can overcome that. Only a program that tightly knit can eventually close the gap to teams like Bearden.

“I think about that every day,” McCord said. “I think of how sweet it would be.”

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