You could say that Scott County is now a soccer community.
After years of going without a district championship, both Oneida and Scott High won district championships on the same night two weeks ago. Last week, both schools hosted region tournament games for the first time, and Oneida went on to win its first region championship and advance to the substate for the first time in school history.
While both teams’ playoff runs came to a halt with disappointing losses that could’ve easily gone the other way — Oneida fell 3-2 to Chuckey-Doak in the Class A sectionals, Scott lost 2-1 to Cumberland County in the Region 5-AA semifinals — it was a magical postseason for local soccer players, coaches and fans.
Not that Scott County hasn’t had a focus on soccer for a while now. You don’t have to go back too many years to find a time when local high school athletes didn’t have a chance to play soccer. But the community’s AYSO program is strong now, and that is serving as a feeder program for the middle school and high school programs. The Swain family — banking magnate Mike Swain has been a lifelong supporter of the sport — is chiefly responsible for soccer’s growth in Scott County, but there have been plenty of others who have played key roles along the way, including two men who were coaching this postseason, Eric Henry at Scott High and Phil Newport at Oneida. And still others . . . but trying to mention them all would only result in inadvertently omitting someone important.
Of course, it’s only been a couple of seasons since the sports pages of this newspaper were providing in-depth coverage of Oneida High’s historic run to the state baseball tournament and proclaiming that Scott County is now a baseball community. Shawn West, who coached the Indians to their best era ever on the diamond, extolled the abilities of this area’s high school student-athletes, who he said are naturally built to be successful in the sport of baseball.
And it was just last month that these pages included coverage of a successful run by the Oneida High School golf team. Comprised of student-athletes from both Oneida and Scott High, the golf team finished an unprecedented regular season that saw them go undefeated and advance to the region tournament. And head coach Jeremy Barnes says next year’s team can be even better.
That’s quite a run of late by Scott County’s high school student-athletes. And it comes as the Scott High football program is coming off its most successful run in school history, with a school-record four consecutive playoff appearances (and seven in eight seasons), school records for wins, and other records that have been broken in the past five years.
The bottom line? These two high schools, Scott and Oneida, are proving to the rest of the state that the kids in Scott County can play with anybody. You just have to wonder which sport is going to be next. I’m not bold enough to make a prediction, but my eye would be on basketball.
Defense, Oneida style
For Oneida to be successful this season, the Indians need their rushing game to be effective.
But the stats don’t lie: Oneida has lived and died by its defense.
In three losses, Oneida has given up an average of 27.5 points per game. In six wins, the Indians have given up an average of only eight points per game.
Of course, stats can always lie, and this year’s defensive stats don’t necessarily tell the entire story. It isn’t that Oneida’s defense necessarily played bad in its three losses. Against top-ranked Meigs County two weeks ago, the Indians played well for much of the game, although Lambert said his team “laid down” on the final drive, which saw Meigs County easily drive the length of the field for a touchdown in the game’s waning minutes. The Tigers also scored on a short field late in the second half after an interception.
Still, this year’s defense has been improved from last year, when the Indians were a bit suspect on the defensive side of the ball. In four losses last season, the Indians gave up an average of 43 points. Giving up 40-plus points in three different games was something that had never happened to a Lambert-coached defense, a stat that was not lost on the head coach.
Coalfield was one of the teams to do that last year, putting up 41 points against the Indians in a late-season win at Dr. M.E. Thompson Field. McKinney certainly hasn’t gotten any worse since his junior season, so the Oneida defense will certainly be up to the challenge this week.
Even in its three losses this season, Oneida has held its opponents under their season scoring average. York Institute is averaging 36 points per game and scored 28 on Oneida. Rockwood is averaging 33 points and scored 27. Meigs County is averaging 35 and scored 28. For what its worth, Coalfield’s offense is easily the best the Indians have faced this season, averaging a whopping 48 points per game.