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July 9, 2014

PREP SOCCER: Brown, Lady Bearcats focus on being elite

CULLMAN — For Jacob Brown, the Cullman girls’ soccer program has really no place to go but up.

The Black and Gold head coach wrapped up his first campaign with the team during the spring, as the Bearcats finished 12-9-7 to set a school record for wins in a season.

Now is where the hard work really begins.

Brown has no doubt his group can get into the upper echelon of the soccer elite throughout the state. While they aren’t there quite yet, the young coach sees things moving in a great direction.

“We’re trying to build on last season’s success,” he said. “We are finally to the level where we can compete with top teams. I don’t know if we’re state championship-caliber yet, but I’m just positive we’ll be one of those true contenders very soon.”

The Bearcats started one leg of the journey this week, as the NOW Soccer Academy traveled to Cullman for a three-day clinic on fundamentals. The camp, which started Monday, features quite a tandem of instructors — Norbert Webley and Luke Oakley.

Webley represented the Jamaican national team from ages 15 to 21 before chasing his dreams at the University of North Carolina on a soccer scholarship. Since then, he’s been training, coaching and developing athletes for over 15 years.

Oakley has plenty of experience as well. He led North Carolina Wesleyan to a sublime three conference championships prior to graduating. He’s also been a coach for several high school, college and semi-pro teams, including the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Sparkman High.

“It’s the equivalent of Peyton Manning coming to speak to our football team,” Brown said. “These girls are more prone to hear what these guys have to say because of their status level. I’ve got a deep background in soccer, but these guys played national ball. They’ve got so much knowledge.”

It won’t stop there, though, as Brown plans to have NOW come out to games next year. He added that six or seven of his players already travel to their facilities for more in-depth training and that he hopes their relationship continues to build in the coming years.

Despite being relatively new to the coaching scene, Brown is intent on making some big-time changes to the Cullman scene.

The first and foremost?

Developing club soccer in the area.

The plan is to start a 10- and 11-and-under girls team this fall. Practice is slated to begin later this week. The overall goal is to develop valued experience for those who’ll eventually enter the high school program.

“If you look to Birmingham, every single state championship but one came from that area,” Brown said. “They are the big soccer club city in the state. We want to have a squad that originates here. Most of the girls drive to Huntsville or to Birmingham to play club soccer. It’s huge. If there’s only one thing I could have as a coach here, it would be club soccer.

“We wanted to develop an actual program. We’d eventually like to create a Cullman soccer club. That’s the ultimate long-term goal for us. We want more and more teams in the area.”

The Bearcats will return all but three players off last year’s team that was consistently near the top 10 in the state. For Brown, there won’t be any first-year jitters come next spring.

There will only be striving for greatness.

“As far as soccer goes, it’s the little things that matter,” he said. “If we can master those things, that’ll be the difference. We aren’t going to be in a rebuilding mode next year. We are going straight into contention, that’s for sure.”

% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at jwinfrey@cullmantimes.com.

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