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Pioneer soccer ready to run

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It was the year Matt Jackson had circled for years. He had a group of players that had been with him for a decade, all primed to become one of the best Pioneer soccer teams in a decade. The hype only grew when the Pioneers destroyed Coffee County 8-0 in the season opener, confirming Jackson’s suspicions all along - Warren County had a ton of soccer stars.

Right when it was getting fun, everything came to a grinding halt. COVID-19 shut down the season, leaving 12 seniors – all with dreams of a district title – to always ponder, what if? Jackson probably still thinks about it as well, but he’s ready to move on and see what the newest version of the Pioneers have to offer.

Warren County is set to start its season Monday, March 15 at home against Coffee County. The Pioneers won’t look the same as last year, but Jackson is confident there is still plenty of talent on hand.

“We still have a group of guys who have all played together for a quite a long time. They have a good connection,” said Jackson, who took over the program before the 2018 season. “We have to fill in a few spots. I think our starting 11 is strong and we have some good bench players.”

While graduation wiped out a number of starters, John Jackson is still around.

The two-time, all-district selection who was named Midfield MVP as a freshman recently made headlines when he signed with Union University to extend his soccer career. He’s going to be the focal point for opponents, but he has plenty of veteran help.

The senior class also includes Daniel Cruz, Marvin Franco, Ayden Guevara, Cullen Lopez, Jahier Martinez, Renato Rodriguez, Carter Smith and Alan Torres.

In the junior class, defender Sawyer Thompson is rock solid and could be the next Pioneer college signee. He’s joined by classmates Joan Almaguer, Edgar Cabrera, Joan Garcia, Luis Luna, Allen Orellena, Jordan Ramirez and Hagen Stewart.

Warren County’s underclassmen are:

Sophomores - Cooper Bailey, Chase Boley, Isaac Cantrell, Bradley Duenas, Jay Guox, Gabe Morin, Kevin Martinez Pina, Yehoshua Ruiz, Beckham Scott, Abram Stinson and Jorge Vazquez

Freshmen – Hugo Balderas, Ethan Basham, Efren Campos, Brodie Cowan, Angel Luna, Kevin Parada and Parker Smith.

Coach Jackson is hopeful some of the younger players can help soon – Cowan has turned some heads in practice already – and give the Pioneers some more lineup flexibility this spring. The only drawback is their inexperience, exacerbated by last year’s layoff.

“COVID shows up with the underclassmen. They would’ve had a full year of high school soccer, but they didn’t get it. That’s where we’re missing out, but we’re going to get them up to speed,” said Jackson.

Here are a few more storylines going into the season:

Jackson has help on offense

Senior John Jackson (Painted Barn Media)

John Jackson has been the centerpiece of the Pioneer attack since he stepped foot on campus. His offensive gifts are immense – he can score with the best of them, but shows just as much skill setting up teammates for shots.

Because of Jackson’s ability to be a one-man wrecking crew, teams often send waves of defenders at him. It wouldn’t be a wise choice this year.

“I think John can score quite a few goals, but he can work box to box. Even if you try to man mark him, he’s going to wear you out,” said coach Matt Jackson about his son.

Jackson’s stamina isn’t the only reason defenses should fear giving him too much attention. He has help on the front line as well.

Marvin Franco has been John’s running mate for years. Their games are perfectly tailored together, helping form a potent 1-2 attack – one their coach likens to what the Lady Pioneers threw at teams last fall with Katie Toney and Bekah Jackson.

“John and Marvin have played together since they were 6. They are dynamic and it’s hard to stop. They have an understanding of where each other are at all times,” said coach Jackson.

The secret weapon on the offense could be Renato Rodriguez. He came out for the team last year and was an instant impact player. He is flying under the radar, but may not for long.

“Renato is aggressive and can score lots of goals. He helped us score in the one game we had last year,” said Jackson. “He is going to surprise people. He’s that good.”

Change in net coming

For years, Matt Jackson hasn’t had to worry about his starting keeper. From the time he was at WCMS up to now at the high school, he’s just penciled in his son Josiah Jackson in the net.

Josiah graduated last year though, taking with him the skills that were recognized as all-district several times. In his place, Jahier Martinez is ready to step up and show out.

“Jahier is a quality player. He’s played a lot as Josiah’s backup and he learned a lot,” said coach Jackson.

Martinez took over for Josiah back in 2016 for the WCMS team and helped guide the young Pioneers to championship under Matt Jackson. He’s also been a keeper on several local travel teams, stepping into the starting role when Josiah was too old to play.

He’s played other defensive roles over the last few seasons, but he’s no stranger to the net. His presence gives the Pioneers a calming influence as their last line of defense.

“Jahier has been there before – He’s played with these guys a ton. He’s going to be fine,” said coach Jackson.

Battle for a district crown

One team is always circled on Warren County’s calendar – the Cookeville Cavaliers.

When Jackson took over, he knew the path to a District 6AAA title would run through the Pioneers’ most heated rival. Last season was when it was all supposed to come together and Cookeville’s reign at the top would end, but COVID stopped the Pioneers from getting the chance.

This season, District 6AAA coaches voted that they would do away with home-and-home series and only focus the standings on one matchup between schools.

This year, only playing one official district game against each team. Cookeville and Warren County will play twice.

The first game, which will be in Warren County Tuesday, March 23, will not count toward the district standings. The rematch, set for April 20, will be the official district game.

“It’s going to give us a chance to look at each other. I don’t know if it’s a good thing, but we’re going to know each other before we play the district game,” said coach Jackson.

District 6AAA also includes Rhea County, White County and Soddy Daisy.

Pioneer schedule

Monday, March 15 vs. Coffee County, 7 p.m.

Tuesday, March 23 vs. Cookeville, 7 p.m.

March 25-27 Trojan Invitational (in Soddy Daisy)

Tuesday, March 30 vs. Soddy Daisy, 6 p.m.

April 6 at Central Magnet, 5:30 p.m.

April 12 vs. Shelbyville, 7 p.m.

April 13 vs. White County, 7 p.m.

April 20 at Cookeville, 7 p.m.

April 27 at Rhea County, 6 p.m.

April 30 vs. Franklin County, 7 p.m.

May 3 vs. Upperman, 6 p.m.

May 6 at Rockvale, 7 p.m.

BOLD - District games

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