Alcoa High School may be new to soccer head coach Shane Corley, but the Tornadoes are fairly familiar with him.
Most of the players on this year’s team played for Corley in middle school, which made the transition a smooth one when the rookie coach and former assistant replaced Tom Gorman at the Alcoa helm this spring.
Gorman, now head girls coach at Oak Ridge, directed the Tornadoes to back-to-back state tournament appearances the last two years, including an appearance in the 2009 championship game. As Alcoa hosts District 4AA rival Christian Academy of Knoxville in a match that will likely decide the league title tonight at 7 p.m., Corley has the Tornadoes looking like a team ready to make another run.
“The kids had played for me before, so they know my expectations,” Corley said.
Though the style of play has changed, the Tornadoes have had little trouble picking it up, senior Jonathan Burkhalter said.
“I like the system,” he said. “We learned the system in middle school, and it works well.”
The Tornadoes have battled their way to a 9-3 record after starting the season with a 2-3 mark.
“We had a rough start, but we improved as the season went on,” Burkhalter said.
Burkhalter and junior All-State forward Austin Stone both attribute the team’s recovery and current success to young team getting a better feel for each other. As the season progressed, things began to click, Stone said.
Last year, the speed former Tornado Derrick Brodus supplied allowed Alcoa to get to the box and score in a hurry. This year, the team has settled into a more of a defensive style, Stone said.
“Last year our game plan was focused around Derek (Brodus),” he said. “This year, I get more touches.”
Stone leads the Tornadoes in scoring this season. The state Olympic Development Player said Corley’s new system slows the pace, leading to more time of possession.
“(Gus) Webster stuffs the middle for us,” Corley said. “Our midfielders help us get more possession.”
They’ve made progress, Corley said, and, with postseason only a week away, the goal this spring remains unchanged from the previous two.
“We want to be ahead of where we were last year,” Corley said. “We want to make it back to the state tournament.”
Many challenges lie between now and Murfreesboro in four weeks, starting with tonight’s visit from the Warriors, a multi-time state champion the Tornadoes have never defeated.
“They are a tough team,” Corley said.
The Tornadoes and Warriors last met in last season’s regional final, Christian Academy prevailing in Knoxville, 2-1. A versatile attack of Stone, Webster, Mario Orihuela and Burkhalter would like nothing better than to be the team to end the winless streak to the Warriors. Tyler Reed gives the Tornadoes a great shot at it in goal, the Alcoa keeper giving up less than a goal per game, letting in only nine goals all season.
He’ll have his work cut out for him.
Christian Academy dresses one of the state’s top players in freshman Ben Holt, who cracked the Warrior starting lineup for the first time while still a seventh-grader. Holt and fellow freshman phenom Stevie Thompson share much of the scoring for the Warriors. Reed’s goal is sure to be tested.