BRISTOL, Va. — Just refer to first-year Abingdon boys soccer coach Reid Anderson as the puzzle master.
“We came into the season with 16 players, and then we battled a lot of injuries and had to move personnel around,” Anderson said. “But we have athletes, and we’ve been putting the pieces together.”
The Falcons improved to 8-1-1 last Wednesday with a 5-1 decision over the Virginia High Bearcats at Sugar Hollow Park.
It was a familiar hero for AHS in Pickett Johnson. The athletic 6-foot-2 junior scored four goals for the second time this season.
“I rely on speed, my right foot and setting myself up for scoring chances,” Johnson said. “I try to mix things up and not get into the same pattern.
Johnson scored on a header, a crossing pass and a one-on-one breakaway.
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Pickett’s other goal came off a textbook corner kick from James Whitted, who distributed two assists and supplied the other goal with a blast from the corner. Elliot Walters added an assist.
Johnson, who has 16 goals on the season, has six years of club soccer experience.
The Falcons opened a 4-0 lead before Patrick Poku scored for VHS with 27:44 left in the match.
Poku, who doubles a standout receiver in football, leads the Bearcats with 12 goals and assists. Price Poku, Patrick’s brother, has eight goals and three assists.
“Patrick and Prince grew up playing soccer in Ghana, and I was excited when they came to Virginia High,” VHS coach Kevin Wright said. “With a small enrollment like we have, we have to rely on athletes from other sports.”
The VHS roster includes six athletes who have experience in the VHS basketball program. Wright said that basketball player and soccer veteran Bailey Owens was the key to that crossover.
“We’re taking steps in the right direction, and some of that comes from our newcomers watching all that Patrick and Prince can do on a soccer field,” Wright said. “When’re you trying to build up a program, you must have a good recruiting base, and my players have taken care of that for me.”
There’s a twist in the Abingdon vs. VHS rivalry this season. Anderson not only played soccer at Virginia High, but he served as an assistant coach to Wright for two years.
For AHS, it was the second win of the season over the Bearcats at Sugar Hollow.
“It was bittersweet going against my old school, but our last game against Virginia High was a little chippy, and we didn’t win the way we wanted,” Anderson said. “We played like we were capable tonight.”
Wright also played soccer at VHS at the same time Anderson was on the junior varsity.
“Reid and I go way back,” Wright said. “Abingdon is a bigger school, but we always enjoy competing against them.”
The only loss for Abingdon came against Mountain 7 District Gate City, but the Falcons gained redemption against with a 10-1 decision. Gate City has two district losses.
“After that loss at Gate City, we started to find a groove, and we’ve been taking care of business ever since,” Johnson said. “That was kind of a wake-up call.”
The Falcons have won seven of their past eight matches by mercy rule, which is a margin of eight goals.
“We’ve made a lot of changes during the season, and it’s worked,” Anderson said. “Early on, we had guys involved in indoor track and basketball, and we had three tough road matches to start the season.
“The players are doing what they need to do now, and the puzzle pieces are fitting.”
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