LIVE OAK — The Suwannee boys soccer team had a winning record last year and went 1-1 in the playoffs, beating Wolfson in the first round then losing to Paxon in the district semifinals.
The Bulldogs return 12 players, mostly seniors, from last year, and coach Chris Joyner said the new players, “should be able to fill the void.”
The Bulldogs finished 8-7-5 after playoffs. Paxon was the No. 1 seed and Suwannee lost the game in overtime on penalty kicks. The score was 2-2 at the end of regulation.
“Last year we were pretty competitive, but our record didn’t show how good we were,” Joyner said. “It was tough, but we were very competitive, and that’s the thing I want for these boys. Though it was a successful season, we didn’t get the wins we were capable of, but I was proud of the ways the boys played, especially in the postseason.”
Joyner played travel ball as a youth, played high school soccer for Columbia, and has been with the program at Suwannee since 2009. He started as a junior varsity coach and is in his third year coaching varsity.
“I am looking for leadership in our returning captains, and our returning experience to help us progress throughout the year,” Joyner said, and reminds his players that they are students first, athletes second. “It doesn’t matter how good you are on the field if you can’t maintain your grades in the classroom.”
Suwannee played at home Tuesday against Columbia, its biggest rival, to open the regular season and plays at Gainesville on Friday at 7:20 p.m. The Bulldogs’ next home game is against Buchholz at Paul Langford Stadium on Monday at 7:30 p.m. The Bulldogs played in the Keystone Classic on Nov. 9.
The team isn’t at full capacity with players still competing in other sports, but they should get some players with cross county finishing at regionals and the football team played its last game Friday.
“We started conditioning back in October, and the first practice was Oct. 24,” Joyner said. “I’m impressed with the boys that are out here now and once we get the full squad I’ll be a lot happier because I’ll be able to see where I stand with everyone.”
Joyner added that it’s tough to identify the team’s top player because everyone has good and bad games.
“Our expectations are to steadily learn, to evolve with the game and learn from our mistakes and move forward. I tell the team all the time that I don’t have to tell them what they do wrong, you know what you’re doing wrong. It’s fine, just fix it,” he added.
The Bulldogs are a Class 4A team, though districts have changed this year. They won’t be traveling to Jacksonville, and the schedule includes Godby, Gadsden County, Rickards, Wakulla and Santa Fe.
The coach’s goals for the team this year includes learning from mistakes, to qualify for districts, and “grow together and lean on each other’s weaknesses as well as our strengths.”
“We play defense all game long because the ball transitions so fast, one minute your on offense, the next minute your on defense. A lot of factors come in when talking about offense or defense. The hardest part with them is being mentally focused. We were getting there last year and if we had about three more games to play our team would have been sound.”