Photo by Sam Chandler.
Oak Mountain Soccer
Oak Mountain senior Kennedy Davis, a Dartmouth signee, enters the 2016 season with three years of starting experience under his belt.
The Oak Mountain High School boys soccer team ascended to the tallest of heights in 2016. This season, it will look to stay there.
The Eagles enter 2017 fresh off a 28-win campaign that ended with a second straight Class 7A state title. In June, they were rated the top team in the country by USA Today.
Head coach Dan DeMasters said his squad’s recent success will make its pursuit of a third consecutive blue trophy even more challenging. Oak Mountain, like most years, will have a sizable target on its back.
“I can’t say this enough: To do anything three times is going to be difficult, no matter how much you prepare,” DeMasters said.
Oak Mountain’s 2017 season, which kicked off Feb. 13 with a 2-2 tie against Vestavia Hills, marks the fourth year of DeMasters’ decorated tenure. Since he took over in 2014, his teams have tallied 72 wins to only seven losses. Six ties, including two in 2016, also have been recorded during the span.
This spring, DeMasters said he’ll need to tinker with his team’s recipe for success. The Eagles lost a number of key players from last year’s roster who will need to be replaced.
“It’s a different team. It’s a different recipe,” DeMasters said. “So I’ll have to do some different things this year with the guys to prepare them physically and mentally and all that sort of stuff.”
DeMasters said his biggest project will be reconstructing his backline, which lost all four starters to graduation. Notably, the departed quartet of Chandler Thomason, Christian Thomason, Brandon Kelly and Jason Webb now plays at the college level.
The team also will have to replace shot blocker Ryan Dearmon, whom DeMasters said was “pretty much the best goalkeeper in the state.”
“It’s all going to be new, so chemistry’s going to be a big thing, just learning how to play with each other will be a big thing, but I think it will happen,” DeMasters said.
The Eagles will have less to worry about on their attack, even with the departure of All-American Hunter Holstad. That’s because they return a veteran core anchored by Kennedy Davis, a Dartmouth signee, and Chad Jeter, the MVP of last spring’s state tournament.
DeMasters said he foresees Davis, a four-year starter, filling the hole vacated by Holstad.
“That doesn’t happen very often,” DeMasters said of having a four-year starter like Davis. “That kind of goes to show you what kind of dynamic player he is. He’s going to be our stud, our captain.”
DeMasters said two other players to watch for on the attack are junior Clay Holstad, the younger brother of Hunter Holstad, and senior Caleb Van Geffen, an All-State cross-country runner who serves as the team’s “Energizer bunny.”
The combination of speed and endurance possessed by Van Geffen meshes well with DeMasters’ tactical approach, which hinges upon movement in the attack.
“No matter how old you are or how much skill you have, you’ve got to work hard and make movement off the ball,” DeMasters said, “because plays happen when you move off the ball.”
DeMasters, therefore, places an added emphasis on player fitness. He said his team’s speed, conditioning and overall mental toughness have traditionally set it apart from the competition.
“I try to tell my guys that speed kills,” DeMasters said, “and we’re going to try to be faster — and not only faster but more in shape — than other teams to kind of make them run.”
DeMasters, it seems, already has found a few ingredients for his new recipe. Time will tell what he cooks up — and how it compares to last season’s sweet result.