Winfield team of destiny?
WINFIELD, W.Va. - Steven Taylor and his Winfield teammates are looking to make up for a season that was stolen from them.
"We're really determined to make a mark,'' said the junior.
By all accounts the Generals have already done that, advancing to their first state tournament, which began in 1988 for the boys, in program history. Winfield, though, is searching for much more after a myriad of injuries sidelined several starters for long stretches of the regular season.
Winfield has a monumental task on its hands, though, taking on perennial power Parkersburg in Friday's Class AAA semifinals in Beckley. (See Page 2B for pairings and schedule.)
If there is a team of destiny in the 2013 state tournament, the Generals (11-9-3) would have an inside track on the leading role.
The furthest Winfield had ever advanced until this season was to regional play and that was in 2004. The Generals were ranked most of the season, finishing No. 17, but ended on a sour note with a losing record after the injuries were too much to overcome. Winfield third-year coach Mike Taylor had one to three starters missing every game until the sectional tournament.
The Generals have caught lightning in a bottle in the postseason, roaring past Nitro (4-0) and defending state champion Hurricane (2-0) in the sectional tournament then edging Huntington (3-2) in the region final. The Generals have only played four times this year with their projected starting lineup.
"We just had to keep playing and not give up,'' said Taylor, who broke his collarbone in the first 15 minutes of the season opener at Ripley. "Just keep your head up and don't get down. Just hard work.''
Taylor was Winfield's top scorer last year with 26 goals, but has been limited to eight games this season. His scoring touch seems to be returning to form as he's netted 15 goals, including six in three postseason games with a high of three against Huntington.
"I was supporting on the sideline,'' Taylor said of how he passed the time recovering from his injury. "Getting my team to step it up and win some of the games while I was out. The young players have experience. I had to do the same thing, get experience in the bigger games.''
Winfield senior keeper Bryce Boggs could see the potential among the younger players who had to step in right away.
"We knew we had a good team overall,'' said Boggs, who has turned in six shutouts with two coming in the playoffs. "We did different formations and we had a few freshman had to step up big time.
"They made some plays and we had some mistakes. We kind of learned who could do what. People just adjusted to new positions and just had to learn to do different things. We're finally starting to click together.''
Junior Jesse Richmond was thrust into an offensive role while Taylor was out, finishing with a second-best 10 goals and a team-high seven assists while moving from defense, midfield and forward.
Senior midfielder Ronnie Beale tallied five goals in the first 12 games to give Winfield another scoring option. Seniors Geoffrey Samples and Simon Sneeringer and juniors Austin Miller and Noah Laliberty also kept the Generals together from their defensive positions along with senior Keegan Patrick, who helped lock down the midfield with Beale, and senior Hunter Sheldon on the outside wing. In addition, freshman Vladik Johns and junior Nathan Keefe have filled key positions.
"Just getting everybody back is a big plus,'' said Foster. "We still don't have the consistency we need. We don't have the cohesion that we would have had if we had played together all year.
"Steven's a leader up front and Austin's a big part of our defense. Getting both of them back has made a tremendous difference. I felt like we had an 18-win team, but it just hasn't happened with all the injuries. It's just made it hard to get things going.''
After finally getting everyone healthy, the Generals were brimming with confidence heading into the postseason.
"We talked about [getting on a run],'' Foster said. "All four of our sectional opponents we beat in the regular season. We had that circled. We wanted to be No. 1 and have the [sectional tournament at Winfield].
"We accomplished that. We just felt like we had a good chance at Huntington. We played a good game and a few things went our way. It's coming together pretty good right now.''
Through it all, the Generals' faith in each other has never wavered.
"We want to do something big,'' said Taylor. "I believe we're going to do something big.''
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.