Dr. Daniel Ray is the headmaster at Chickamauga’s Oakwood Christian Academy, but he’s also been known to jump in and help out with coaching various sports from time to time.
So with OCA Middle School soccer coach Tony Vona also currently serving as interim pastor at a church, Ray is stepping back into a familiar role this season as head soccer coach for the academy’s high school team, a post he’s held on a couple of occasions.
Ray, who cut his teeth in coaching many years ago, said it’s been “so far, so good” as his team is set to kick off the 2018 season.
“We have good speed and good height and those are things you really can't teach,” he explained. “This is probably the best overall high school team that we've had thus far. We have more size and more depth than we've ever had and some of our key players are going to be seniors, especially on the defensive end.”
For the Eagles, it will start on the defensive side of the ball with senior Tyler Epperson on the back row, Senior Woody Hass at sweeper and senior Garrison Baggett back for his final season in goal.
There will also be senior leadership in the midfield. Brooklyn Abernathy is back after taking a couple seasons off from soccer and she will be joined in the midfield by the team’s fifth and final senior, Noah Permenter.
Left-footed kicker Andrew Phillips, a junior, will play up top in the 4-4-2 formation with two more juniors, Naoki Gilchrist and Chase Lanham in midfield spots. The final junior, Thomas Buckels, will bolster the defense from the back row.
A sophomore, Sam Lewis, will play at a forward spot alongside Phillips to give OCA another big player with a strong leg. Two more sophomores, Caleb Epperson and Ryan Scarbrough, are skilled players that will provide excellent support in the midfield.
The class is rounded out with Scottie Duffie, who honed her skills at a recent soccer academy visit at West Point in New York, and Zac Moore, a home-schooled student, who will give the Eagles added depth in the midfield.
A trio of talented freshmen will complete the roster.
Price Ray is penciled in as the team’s stopper and will back up Baggett in goal, while the other freshmen include Jarrett Chambers on the defensive side and Knox Brashier in the midfield.
“We really have a good mix this year of seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen,” Ray added. “Some of our most skilled players are probably our sophomores, which is always nice. We have several players on our team now that were a part of our back-to-back-to-back middle school championship team. It's nice to have them move up and join us.
“We also have a lot of folks this year who are interchangeable. If you line them up, they pretty much all look alike. They're all around 6-foot tall with decent speed and they are able to play the ground game and they have the ability to win the ball in the air.
“One thing that helps us when we play at home is that we have a smaller field. Ours is just about 95 yards in length, so learning how to play on that size field really helps us keep the ball on the ground. That will also really help us with our spacing as we move on to some other fields that are regulation size.”
Dirk Dickson, formerly a soccer coach at Chattanooga Valley Middle School, will serve as Ray's assistant. Dickson is now teaching fifth grade at Oakwood Christian.
Ray added that the key to the season was to first get in shape.
“After that though, it really just boils down to confidence with this group,” he continued. “It's not unlike a team I had 18 years ago at Ridgeland. We had a bunch of freshmen back then. We had decent talent at all the positions, but we still had to learn how to win.
“This team is kind of the same way. I think we're going to be competitive and I think we have some firepower, so we should be able to put some goals on the board, even from a pretty good distance out because we have some guys with strong legs that might be able to catch some opposing goalies off guard.”