WINFIELD — When it came to replacing longtime girls soccer coach Marshall Hoff, Winfield didn’t exactly go in-house, but it certainly got one of its own.
Jade Smith, a former standout for Hoff and all-West Virginia Conference player at West Virginia Wesleyan, has taken over a Generals program that has been among the state’s best over the last decade.
Smith, a 27-year-old nurse practitioner with coaching experience on the youth and travel levels, has already begun to put her own stamp on the team as the final week of the three-week summer practice period draws to a close.
“The girls are very technically sound,” Smith said. “We’ve focused more on technique as well as fitness so we’ve had a good combination of that.”
The technical side of the game is where Winfield players say they’ve seen the biggest difference so far with Smith.
“It’s different from the last few years, but it’s going good,” senior defender Mara McGrew said. “We’ve made a lot more progress than we have in the past.
“It’s more technical stuff, it’s not all about if you can run or not, which is a good thing because we need know how to play soccer. It’s more about can you actually dribble the ball or pass the ball, which is what we need because we struggled with a lot of that stuff last year.”
Smith won’t get much time to ease into the position as she inherits a team harboring a large group of returning starters and some heavy expectations heading into the season.
Winfield returns nine of 11 starters from last year’s state-semifinal team, with six of them entering their senior seasons. After winning a state championship when those seniors-to-be were freshmen — the school’s fifth state title in a row — the Generals have fallen in the semifinal round in each of the past two seasons.
While several schools would celebrate reaching the state’s final four, that’s simply not good enough for a program that has won eight state championships since 1995.
“I think we build off what we had and fill the gaps as we go,” Smith said. “We have a couple incoming freshmen and sophomores and juniors that are very good and I think they’ll step up, and we have great senior leadership and skill. I think with the seniors taking the lead, they’ll build the team.”
While a lot of that pressure will fall on the Generals’ first-year coach, the players, especially that senior group, feel it as well.
“We’ve got one last time to go, so we’ve got to just give it all,” McGrew said. “We all talk about it all the time. We’re the ones leading the team now, so we’ve got to step up.”
All the components certainly seem to be there for the Generals to climb back to the top of the mountain.
Forward Payton Frohnapfel, defender Kalei Jordan and goalkeeper Emily Hudson (all rising seniors) were all first-team All-State selections last year and are joined by a slew of experienced players both in the starting lineup and off the bench.
In Smith, players will have a coach who has already traversed a road several of them hope to follow, through Winfield’s program under Hoff and into college soccer. Smith said she would try to implement elements from all levels as she shapes her team.
“It helps a lot, because I know Coach Marshall’s coaching techniques and I’ve taken that foundation and added on what I know and the knowledge I bring to the game as well,” Smith said. “It’s a good foundation to have. He was a great coach, he’s a great mentor and he’s made these girls spectacular.
“Mainly the technique and speed of play — once you get to college the speed of play is way different. A lot of one-two passes, split passes, overlaps and just making the technique firm. Adding on to the skill set they already have.”
McGrew said the relatibility between players and Smith has made the transition even easier.
“I think she knows what we’re going through when it comes to high school stuff, but also with the running and the drills, she knows how to do them and even how hard they are,” McGrew said. “She understands how we feel about certain things. I think that helps a lot.
“I think we’ve made a lot of progress. We have better team chemistry I think and we’ve already learned a lot more skills than we have in the past.”