The fall athletic season is just around the corner as practices and official tryouts are slated to begin on Aug. 2, first contests are scheduled to be held on Aug. 16 and Chatham students …
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The fall athletic season is just around the corner as practices and official tryouts are slated to begin on Aug. 2, first contests are scheduled to be held on Aug. 16 and Chatham students plan to return to school on Aug. 23. Men’s soccer is one of seven sports that will begin in the fall — compared to just two in last year’s pandemic-shortened season — and that includes the Jets of Jordan-Matthews, who are coming off of a 10-2 overall record, a PAC 7 conference title and second-round exit (a 4-2 loss to Washington) in last year’s 2A postseason.
This week, in the first-ever edition of The Clipboard — a series featuring coaches from across the county — we speak with Paul Cuadros, the Jets’ championship-winning head coach and founder of the program, about the ups-and-downs of last year and his projections for the upcoming season.
Cuadros has led J-M to 11 conference titles, 19 consecutive playoff appearances, two Final Four appearances and one state championship (1A, 2004) in 19 seasons at the helm. He’s also a seven-time conference Coach of the Year, a seven-time N.C. Soccer Coaches Association Regional Coach of the Year and a one-time NCHSAA 1A Men’s State Coach of the Year. He was named the PAC 7’s Coach of the Year for the 2020-21 season.
PAUL CUADROS: I think it’s going to be a completely different season. The kids we got last season for essentially the COVID season, as I like to call it, were kids that we had sort of cobbled together into a team because we lost kids due to COVID. And by that, I mean ineligibility issues because of not attending their Zoom classes, having poor grades, just the impact of COVID did all of that to them. We’re hoping that those particular kids are going to come back. Some of them went to summer school, so hopefully they’ll be eligible to try out next week and they’ll be on the team. I don’t know what to expect in terms of who’s actually returning and who isn’t, but I’m hopeful that at least the ones who were with us in January through March will be back with us and the ones who were not with us will join us.
I know some people, of course, who are going to come back for sure. We’ve been having these workouts, so I have a good general sense of that. There’s some hurdles for them to pass through, though. One is eligibility, have they gotten their paperwork in and so forth and so on. That’s a real question mark, not too bad in terms of answering, but they just have to get their paperwork done. I’m hopeful that if they come to the workouts this week, we’ll get them set up so they can get a physical and get their paperwork in and be able to tryout next week.
This coming season, it should be more like a regular season. We’re beginning in August, not January. As of now, there’s no rules to have the athletes masked during practices or games or anything else. So there are not going to be any COVID restrictions on us to be able to play, so that would be tremendous. And the kids will be back in school, so they’ll have a routine that is more normal to them. And the season should have a routine that’s more normal to everybody else. We’re looking to return to things being normal as much as you can. We’re still in the pandemic, but as much as we can.
We’ve lost Franco Basurto, Kevin Gonzalez, Cristian Escobedo and Alfredo Hernandez. So, we’ve lost four guys, and of those four guys, one was essentially a starter. We’ve lost some experience, I think, but the juniors that were on the squad this past season, I’m expecting them to step up into leadership roles and they’re all very good players and some of them are all-conference. Brian Hernandez is all-conference, Alexis Ibarra is all-conference, Irvin Campos is all-conference, so we’re returning, I think, some strong players. We’ve lost some players, but we’re returning some prominent players, too.
I’m hopeful for that. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to win our conference and be conference champions and then make a deep run in the playoffs. I’m hopeful for that every season, but as much as I’m hopeful for that, there are all kinds of factors that can play into what happens during the run to the finals, so I tamper that hope with reality.
I’m excited to return to a more normal type of play, so definitely that. And being able to train more normally. Under the restrictions from last season, you can only be out there 90 minutes, now you can be out there a little bit longer, so that should have an impact on training. We won’t be training in the wintertime, so that’ll be a plus, it won’t be cold or rainy or anything like that, so the delays that we’ve had for games, hopefully, won’t come back and we’ll have a more normal training schedule and playing schedule.
That all said, this is a new conference we’re going into under the new realignment, so what can we expect? We don’t know. That’s a bit of a mystery, but I think we’re hopeful that we can do well and prevail. Some of the other teams that we have traditionally played have moved up to (3A). I’m very happy that First Flight in Kitty Hawk is no longer in 2A and has moved up to 3A. That means that none of us in 2A, on the East side, will have to travel six hours to play a playoff game. So I’m very happy about that, because that was just a killer for everybody, every program struggle with that type of travel. So I’m grateful for that, for this new realignment.
I’m hoping that we can do some things, sort of depending on how much free time I have and what we’re able to do. I’m hoping that maybe for senior night, we’ll be able to do something special and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the creation of the program.