Four county teams converge on Gatlinburg for Rocky Top Cup
Zach Schrandt didn’t realize how big the Rocky Top Cup trophy was until it finally arrived.
Now, the Gatlinburg-Pittman boys soccer coach doesn’t want to give it up.
“When it came in, I thought ‘Oh my God, that’s way bigger than I thought,’ ” Schrandt said. “I told our players — I showed it to our team — ‘This is the first of three trophies we want to win this season.’ So, we’ll see. After we spent all that money, I told them, ‘Let’s try to keep it in our trophy case if we can.’ ”
That’s the challenge for the Highlanders in the first annual tournament which grew to 10 teams about a day after Schrandt first started proposing the idea. G-P had to turn teams away because the interest was so high. That field of 10 includes county rivals Pigeon Forge, Seymour and Sevier County, making the tournament, which begins today, a nice kickoff to the season.
The Highlanders would like this weekend to be the beginning of a district championship run. This is the third year for Schrandt and the one where he said his team finally has the experience to make a run at some trophies. That veteran leadership starts with senior Harrison Genseal up top, who already has 10 goals this preseason. He’s complemented by Tucker Adams and Luke Stone in midfield. The back is anchored by Luis Sauceda, who volunteered to move from the midfield after some defensive struggles early in the preseason.
“Finally we have the experience,” Schrandt said. “We have the understanding of what it takes to compete and kind of the process of winning and what it takes in practice. Truly this is our most athletic team. I think we’ve all kind of agreed in our senior meetings, if we do not win the district championship, we’d consider it a huge disappointment.”
Expect the Smoky Bears to have a potent offensive personality this spring.
Anthony Lemus already proved that in Sevier County’s opener, scoring four goals on Tuesday in a win over Powell. The 6-2 win came after a four-match preseason where the Bears scored 21 goals.
“You take scrimmages with a grain of salt,” said Sevier County coach Bryan Atchley. “We’re playing a lot of people. They’re playing a lot of people. But we’ve gone up against some pretty stiff competition.”
Atchley said his team will be strong down the spine, starting with Lemus up top and Paul Butuza, who had a goal against Powell, right behind him as an attacking midfielder. Kenny Fisher will be another catalyst behind Butuza at center defensive midfield. The back line is anchored by two strong returning defenders, Connor Rytz and Tyler Hounshell.
The Tigers are already off to a good start via a 1-0 win over Cocke County. Coach Bill Moseley said his squad of 34 players is full of depth and senior leadership this year.
“They’re wanting to win,” Moseley said. “I put it to them, ‘This is your senior year. It’s your last time you’ll be playing at this level.’ They’ve stepped up and they’re trying to help the younger kids.”
It starts at the back with Carlos Zelaya, who runs Pigeon Forge’s defense. Moseley said his team has only given up one goal through the preseason and Tuesday’s opener. That’s in large part due to Zelaya along with support from a strong midfield. Mckenly Matthews, Jose Cholula and Jesus Pineda have done a good job in the middle distributing the ball to young forwards, like Melvin Romero.
“If we can improve every week, I think we’re going to be good,” Moseley said.
It’s been a slow start for Seymour in what coach Drew Payne said could be called a rebuilding year.
It all begins with Jake McBrayer in midfield. The Eagles’ playmaker will be asked to score a little more this year after picking up 16 assists in 2013. His main target up front is likely to be Kameron Grunenwald, who Payne said has good technical skill and can finish well.
In the back will be Quinton and Austin Moore, who have moved to defensive midfield positions from wing backs. They’ll support centerback Jacob Lewis-Jones, a very strong, smart and tough defender.