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Local club soccer sparks major school success

Bruce Mottern is a prime example of how the Farragut/West Knox County club soccer programs have helped develop young talent to maximum levels while holding their own with clubs feeding off bigger state talent pools in Nashville and Memphis.

Mottern is a former Farragut High standout goalkeeper seeking a professional soccer roster spot after earning All-American and All-Southeastern Region honors in four years at Queens University in Charlotte, N.C.

Now 22, Mottern went from AYSO level to competitive soccer with Smoky Mountain Soccer Club beginning at age 11, said his mother, Madlyn Mottern. "That was the only west or Farragut club at the time, K-F-C didn't exist, and Diadora didn't exist," she said. "They did a good job, I think he was happy in that club. They had a great coach, John Craven, he loved John.

"Both my older kids went though Smoky Mountain," she added. That also included Kyle Mottern, a goalkeeper on the first of FHS's back-to-back TSSAA state championship teams in 2003. The youngest Mottern, Tyler, 15, is a player with Arsenal of Knoxville Football Club.

Kyle Mottern's state title is one of seven earned by West Knox County high school boys teams since 2001— two Class AAA titles each for Farragut and Bearden, each also winning a national championship, plus three-time defending Class A/AA state champ Christian Academy of Knoxville.

Farragut's Lady Admirals have twice finished as state runner-ups since 2000, and the BHS Lady SoccerDawgs along with Knoxville Catholic and Webb School have fielded state tournament teams in recent seasons.

So, is the secret to this high school success — plus the likes of Bruce Mottern and Demetrius Donald, both of whom are trying out for pro teams in the United Soccer League — greatly attributed to local club soccer?

Tennessee Valley Futbol Club (Diadora Impact) KFC and SMSC have hundreds of participants ages 8 to 18.

Wallie Culbreth, a former state championship club coach who led FHS to its state titles and national crown, said competitive balance is key.

"One unique thing here in Knoxville, we haven't put super club teams together. We haven't taken our club teams and combined them together to get the best club players like a lot of other big metros do, and states do. Because of that, that's what has built such a good club system around here to feed the high schools.

"For some reason there's a little bit of unusual competitiveness in the Knoxville area," he added. "It's caused a lot of inter-city rivalries, which has really benefited all the high school programs because those guys beat each other up forever and then they end up playing with each other in high school.

"I think the coaches have had to step up to the level of the kids. Parents of these clubs around here have sought better coaches all the time because their kids are getting better. ... That doesn't happen in every area."

Eric Turner, head coach of Bearden High School girls and boys soccer teams who piloted the Bulldogs to its state titles and national crown, has been coaching at the high school or club level since first arriving in Knoxville 12 years ago.

"It's a lot better than it was seven to ten years ago," Turner said. "In Knoxville over the last five, six, seven years, they've really done a good job developing the talent we have with the limited talent pool" as compared to Memphis or Nashville. "In that respect I think we're actually doing a better job because we don't have the numbers that the other cities have. ... We go compete, we don't win as much, but we win a lot at the Division I [top club soccer level].

"We've got some good quality coaches in here, like Jon Schneider [Diadora] Impact, he's done a nice job, tilting the skill levels," Turner added. "And Gary Hennley over at the Crush [KFC], they've done a great job developing the skill sets that the kids need. For the kids coming up, we're getting more polished players where eight, ten years ago you were getting athletes, not necessarily polished soccer players."

As a result, "high school coaches can focus on tactics, things like that," Turner said.

Schneider, co-founder of TVFC in January 2001 with Norm Wishart and director of the girls program who, upon moving to East Tennessee in late 2000, has been an assistant coach at both Milligan and Carson-Newman colleges.

Saying his teams play "at the highest level" at all ages, Schneider added that, "In five years we've won twelve state titles already.”

"I think we are the most successful club in the state. Right now we're currently ranked the number one club in the state [as ranked by], thirteenth in the region, forty-fifth in the nation."

As for why he co-formed TVFC, "There just really was not, to me, an organized club like I was used to seeing," said Schneider. "I just didn't see the infrastructure, I didn't see the development of being able to take a player of, say, six-years-old all the way up to college age.

"Ever since them we've been bringing in college coaches, I think a lot of the local coaches actually wanted to get involved in the area," he added. “All of our coaches have played soccer at least at the collegiate level."

As a result, "Carson-Newman's girls, they just signed three of our girls last season who just finished in the Final Four of the national tournament, and all three of them were starting and playing.”

Other TVFC success stories include Katie Green, former FHS All-state and current University of Florida starting forward, "who we had for five years," Schneider said. Sarah Van Sickle, another former FHS All-state forward and current University of Tennessee starting defender, was there for two years.

Craven, coach with SMSC since the early 1990s, said club coaches “are taking kids to tournaments that range from the New York and Washington, D-C area to Florida and as far west as Texas, so you're playing some very sophisticated soccer at a high level.”

Also, "When you had the run at Bearden High School a few years ago, it just so happened that those players played together on a couple of club teams, so they were getting more-less year-round training in a cohesive group," Craven said. "And then Farragut had a bunch of kids that not only were good, they played together all the time."

Madlyn Mottern said Bruce was the only Knoxville area player on a statewide Olympic Development team a few years ago, "but now we have probably thirty kids from the Knoxville area making those teams. Some of the O-D-P teams now have half of the players from Knoxville in some of the age groups."


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