Although it is not affiliated with AAU like its basketball and volleyball counterparts, the travel soccer team has afforded young Carroll County players with many new opportunities. Starting with about 18 players in 2010, the travel team nearly doubled in one year with more than 30 players last season. And interest continues to pick up steam locally.
“It's a team to give our kids exposure to higher levels of play and competition. The rec league has done wonders for our program at the high school, but we've not really had anything else besides that,” said coach Marion Harris. “We've gotten to the point where we need something to give the kids a little more experience.”
This year's travel season will kickoff Feb. 25 with winter camp. The travel team part of the camp will be from 9 a.m.-noon at Hillsville Elementary School. The camp will be led by the J.H. Soccer Academy coaching staff as well as Trey Brown, a favorite among Carroll soccer campers this summer. Brown is now a graduate assistant coach at Mountain State University where Carroll alum Sumner Rigney now plays.
“He is very excited about it and so are the kids I've talked to,” Harris said. “Especially the ones that went to camp this past summer, they really appreciate Trey.”
There will also be a high school camp that same afternoon from 1 to 5 p.m. Each camp will cost $30, although there will be discounts for travel players. Interested participants can register that day or contact Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Made up primarily of players ranging from the second to seventh grades, the J.H. Soccer Academy Cavaliers will soon have an impact on Carroll County High School's varsity program. Harris said four of the local travel team's players will be eligible to play for Carroll's JV program this year.
“And we'll have a bunch next year and even more the next,” Harris said. “It is really starting to feed the high school program, which is a big reason we started it.”
Over the past two years the travel team has played as far away as Lynchburg and Richlands, although most trips stay within a radius of 90 minutes with such soccer-fertile areas as Blacksburg, Bluefield and Winston-Salem (N.C.) nearby.
“We are very blessed to be in a part of the country where we can go within an hour to an hour-and-a-half in any direction and find quality teams to play. You go an hour northeast and find Blacksburg – you can't get any better than that,” Harris said. “You go an hour south and you have Mount Airy, Pilot Mountain and Winston Salem. Every corner in Winston you have another sign for a soccer field, so we are very blessed with the area we are in and the opportunities our kids get. This is giving them that opportunity.”
Aside from traveling, the J.H. Soccer Academy Cavaliers have also hosted several home tournaments in the past two years. Many times, the team ends up playing as many as five or six games in a day.
“It really is a good experience for the kids, and the travel, it makes it worth our while to travel because it is not just one game and come home. Last year we had two home days where we played soccer from 10 in the morning to 4 or 5 in afternoon,” Harris said. “During those home matches we had eight to nine teams there during that day. Not only does it give us experience, but it gives good exposure to the area and local businesses. There are anywhere from 10 to 20 kids on each team, plus the people that come with them. We only have two fields. If we had another place with more than two fields, we would have more teams that would want to come and we'd have space for them.”
Not only are Carroll's travel teams gaining valuable experience, they have been quite successful as well. In fact, the Girls' 10 & Under team has not lost since dropping a 1-0 decision to Blacksburg in March of 2010. The team went on to tie Blacksburg 1-1 in a rematch.
“We've also beat a team from Bluefield that previously was unbeaten,” Harris said. “That team also had won quite a few tournaments, so that was an accomplishment we were very proud of.”
Carroll also has a 10 & Under Boys team. Whenever it comes time to face a co-ed team, Harris said the two Carroll teams combine for a 14 & Under co-ed squad. He also said one of the program's biggest philosophies is that every player gets to play at least half of every game.
“The thought behind that is you cannot learn sitting on the bench watching,” Harris said.
Unlike AAU programs that typically hold tryouts, Harris said the Carroll travel soccer team doesn't cut players. He wants the program open to anybody that wants to learn and play the game. But like AAU, there is more cost associated with the program than rec league. Even with a registration fee of $100, Harris said that covers most everything for the entire season, including secondary insurance, fees for referees and most of the uniform cost. Being able to play quality competition in a close proximity to the area also helps keep the cost down, he said.
“Most travel teams I have been a part of or read about cost between $350 to $500 a season and it does not include uniforms and things like that,” Harris said. “It is a great price range for the experience the kids will get.”