Little big scorer
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jack Wiles packs quite a punch in his 5-foot-5, 120-pound frame.
The St. Albans senior leads the Kanawha Valley with 31 goals heading into this week's sectional tournaments. With the help of Wiles' offensive prowess, the Red Dragons have a chance to extend their season beyond the first round for the first time in recent memory.
"That's one of my biggest advantages,'' said Wiles of his size after Thursday's game at Cross Lanes Christian. "I enjoy being small.''
Wiles has been standing tall in helping No. 18 SA (10-9-2) gain respectability this season. The Red Dragons have been in the state coaches association's Class AAA top 20 rankings for every week but the first and reached as high as No. 11.
"He means everything to the team,'' said SA first-year coach Cameron Ashley, who was an assistant the past two seasons. "The ball funnels through him. He always gives his hardest [effort], but more importantly he's a leader to all the guys.
"He helps them out more than anything else. If a player is having a hard game he'll go up to them quietly and go, 'Hey, man, settle down, you'll be fine. Just play your game.'
"At practice he'll be straightforward with players. He's like, 'This is not going to work. You have to try it like this. This'll work. Trust me.' A lot of the players believe in him.''
The Red Dragons beat defending state champion Hurricane 3-0 during the regular season. SA owned a 1-17-1 record in 2011 and went 4-12-2 last year.
"The goals are just the icing on the cake,'' Wiles said. "I just love winning. We didn't lose very many seniors.
"On top of that, we had six great freshmen come up this year, which I think is the key. They all play year round. They pass and get good plays going.''
After netting 28 goals through SA's first 13 games, Wiles has been slowed to three in the last eight.
"Yeah,'' smiled Wiles, "people know. Double- and triple-teams every game. It's very frustrating. You've just got to work around it and spread the field. Just keep moving. I'm in the back of [opponents'] minds so if I'm moving and confusing them that's sort of how I get my offensive game to go.''
Ashley said Wiles has earned the respect of opposing coaches and players.
"I'll quote Nitro coach [Brian Young] at the [Mountain State Athletic Conference] all-conference meeting when he recommended Jack for player of the year,'' said Ashley. "He said [Jack's] a nightmare for defenses. So quick. He can hit his top speed in two or three steps. His ball control and ball skills ... what he can do with a ball!
"One of the things he loves to do, he'll go really fast then kind of slow up and get that defender to relax then just turn it on again. The defenders can't stop it. They can't catch up fast enough. By the time they can catch up, he's already turned the corner.''
Wiles said playing on a travel team with many of Hurricane's players from last year's title team has helped his development. Wiles scored 12 goals last year for the Red Dragons and didn't play much varsity as a freshman.
"That was really good for me,'' said Wiles of playing with all-staters. "I've played all year round the past five or six years. I was not planning on this at all. I was just going to go and try to win some games, but the goals came.''
Wiles said no colleges have contacted him about playing beyond high school.
"After the fourth game this year every team knew who Jack Wiles was,'' Ashley said. "He's really good at recognizing what's working and what's not working and changing up pretty quickly. I think he's too talented not to be playing somewhere in college. It's been a pleasure coaching him. He's one of my favorites because he just works so hard.''
Wiles hopes to extend his prep career a few more games. SA's opening-round sectional opponent is Hurricane, a team the Red Dragons have already defeated.
"I think we've got something left,'' he said.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4811.