• 70°

SOCCER: PE opens season at Nottoway

The Prince Edward County High School varsity boys soccer team experienced a lot of success in 2016, and a largely new Eagles squad will be trying to produce a similar result this year.

Prince Edward finished last season with an 18-1 overall record, its only loss coming in the Region 2A East tournament quarterfinals. The Eagles won the Quad Rivers Conference 34 tournament championship.

But 15 players from that team are now gone, 11 due to graduation and four due to having returned home after participating in the school’s exchange program.

Devin Pierce returns for his fourth season as Prince Edward head coach and said this will the most raw Eagles team he has ever had.

“We do have some players that just weren’t with us last year, but they had been on the team in previous years,” he said, but this only brings the total number of returners to five.

Seventeen players are brand new to the team, and “of those, five are brand new to playing soccer,” Pierce said.

The team is composed of seven juniors, seven sophomores, five seniors and three freshmen.

If players can avoid injury and keep their grades up, Pierce said he expects them to get better as the season progresses.

“Once they learn how to play with each other, then it will become a lot easier,” he said. “But as of right now, we’re trying to build some ground rules, make sure everyone is playing for the right reasons, and working in the same, I guess, formation. We’re making sure we’re all doing the same thing.”

As for his prediction on how the Eagles could do, he said, “I think we’ll make the playoffs, but will it be as easy as previous seasons? I don’t believe so.”

Most of Pierce’s expected standouts are juniors and seniors.

Senior Brennan Deitrich returns to Prince Edward after transferring to a school in Northern Virginia for his junior year, and he will play either forward or center back, depending on what the game plan requires.

Also returning this year is senior center back Craig Burns.

“He’ll be the head of our defenders,” Pierce said. “He’s kind of led ever since he was a freshman, so Craig will do very well this year, as will Chaney Sheehan.”

Sheehan, a junior, will be a center midfielder.

“We’ve got some players that fly under the radar,” Pierce said, including senior Andrew Davis, who returns to the team after last playing for the Eagles as a freshman. He will play somewhere on the left side of the field.

Prince Edward will look to take advantage of the pace sophomore Jeffrey Hillard provides, and Pierce also highlighted the versatility of freshman Harry Rust.

“He is just a workhorse, and I can put him anywhere on the field, and he’s very willing to sacrifice his ego and, really, his body for the team,” the coach said. “So, he’ll do very well this year.”

The key task at hand for the Eagles to experience some good success this year is “I think, putting our egos aside and learning how to play together as a team, learning that ‘we’ is greater than ‘me,’” Pierce said.

Prince Edward got a preseason taste of success Tuesday evening when it defeated visiting Brunswick High School 9-1.

The Eagles had six different goal scorers, each of which also had at least one assist. Deitrich led the way with four goals.

The Eagles open the season on the road, visiting Nottoway High School on Monday, with kickoff set for 6:30 p.m.