By Clay Horning
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — For the last 10 years or so, the Norman North boys have traveled to South Carolina for the Palmetto Cup.
Always a destination for some of the nation’s best prep soccer teams, it’s been a chance for the Timberwolves to showcase their program, forever one of Oklahoma’s best.
That may very well still be the case, but it’s a little different this time around.
For one, North is skipping the Palmetto Cup this season for the Southern Soccer Showcase, beginning today in Huntsville, Ala.
The T-Wolves will play one game today and two Saturday, before returning home and making up its rained-out contest with U.S. Grant Monday night on the North pitch.
Two, very rarely have the T-Wolves (2-2) ever left the state to make a national impression sporting any loss on their slate, much less two, but that’s the case this season after shootout losses to both Broken Arrow and Norman High.
North, ranked No. 6 by the Class 6A coaches, believes it may have turned a corner with a 4-0 victory at No. 9 Edmond Memorial last time out. But, even if that’s true, the Showcase is less a chance for North to showcase itself than a chance to confirm to itself the team that blew out Memorial is the real T-Wolves.
“This weekend and next week, it’s going to be six games in seven or eight days,” said North coach Geo Claros, whose team will also meet Lawton and Westmoore next week. “We’re looking forward to getting into that groove.”
The T-Wolves hope a few changes made before the Memorial game will continue to pay off.
Jonathan Newton, who scored twice against the Bulldogs, is now lining up wide on the forward line, while Jacob Jerles has moved from the back line to center forward. Also, Cole Johnson is now playing a midfield position.
What Claros has been looking for is a sustained attack. When things weren’t going well, North was experiencing breakdowns between its midfield and forward lines. Specifically, attacks tended to be too direct and were quickly fizzling. Nothing was sustained.
“I never felt like we were getting enough balls served across to have a chance to get on the end of it,” Claros said. “Once you get people respecting service out wide, that’s when the middle of the field might open up again.”
While North addresses external challenges like trying to continue the offensive display it conjured against Memorial, where it scored three second-half goals in 22 minutes, getting away for three games in two days should offer other opportunities as well.
“It can bring us together,” senior defender Ashton Bray said.
That’s the teambuilding aspect most coaches hope they’re signing up for when scheduling out-of-state trips. Make everybody live with each other for a few days and they come back with more unity and a stronger bond.
“It’s always been positive in the past and it should be again,” Claros said.
Already, the T-Wolves may have passed a crucial test.
Bray, one of North’s captains, used a phrase near and dear to his coach’s heart when he described his and his teammates’ response to suffering two losses.
“The work rate has picked up quite a bit ever since those two losses,” he said. “We’ve really started to pick things up and we’re heading in the right direction.”
Three games in two days, four in four and six in eight have the potential to blow a team off course, but it can also go the other direction emphatically. That’s what the T-Wolves are counting on.
“It’s a chance to go out there and make a statement about who we are,” Bray said. “We’re still the same Norman North. We started slow, but that’s still who we are.
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