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Dennis, Eagles hoping to soar

Posted Monday, March 07, 2011 by Kevin Travis, New Bern Sun Journal

Dennis, Eagles hoping to soar

First-year coach excited about chance

Sun Journal staff

VANCEBORO – When Jana Dennis stood along the soccer sideline next to her players, the first-year West Craven coach felt like she was back home.

Dennis grew up playing soccer, enjoying a stellar career at Wilmington Ashley High School. She then competed on the club team at N.C. State.

The 2008 college graduate, who played midfield throughout her career, was back on the field Feb. 28, but this time as head coach.

“It felt good just to be back out on the field,” Dennis said. “The wind was blowing, the (national) anthem was playing and it felt good to be back out here and coaching, being a part of a team.”

Dennis said being named as a head coach is a dream come true.

“It’s amazing,” Dennis said. “Every day I come out here, just to be able to work with these girls and be with them, they are great student-athletes and great role models. I know these girls are going to work hard.

“This is my first year coaching at the high school level. It’s awesome and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m blessed just to be here.”

The season-opener was a successful debut for Dennis, as she guided the Eagles to a 2-0 home victory over South Lenoir. She followed that up with a 1-0 road win against East Carteret on March 2.

“It’s great,” Dennis said of the 2-0 start. “We really only had two-and-a-half weeks together (to practice) because some of the girls had basketball, as did I. Coming out with two wins under our belt is nice.

“It also brings some confidence to the girls that they do have the potential to do well and, if they continue working hard, maybe we can pull off some wins in the conference.”

Dennis took over as head coach for Aaron Steele. He and his father, Dana Steele, are assisting Dennis this season. She said their guidance has been beneficial.

“Getting to work with the Steele’s is great,” said Dennis, who teaches Earth Science at the high school. “They’ve kind of taken me under their wings. They’ve really helped me with the program itself. I know I couldn’t have done this without them.”

Senior captain Lauren Cleland, a defender/midfielder, thinks Dennis is a strong addition to the soccer program.

“I think she’s been doing good,” said Cleland, who had five goals and three assists last year. “She’s brought a new view of soccer here.”

Cleland is hoping that new view, and hard work, leads to more victories this season. The Eagles went 6-12 overall last year, including 2-12 in the ever-competitive Coastal Conference.

Jacksonville won the 3-A state championship last year, while White Oak finished runner-up.

“We want to do better than last year,” Cleland said. “Last year we won a lot of the non-conference games that we played, but I’m hoping we can win some conference games this year.”

Senior captain Julia Sheffield, a defender/midfielder, said team unity will help the Eagles do well this year.

“We’ll have to mesh,” Sheffield said. “We have a lot of new people, so (meshing) is probably half the game right there. I feel like we’re coming a long ways and we’re really getting better at it.

“Team-wise, I just hope we can keep improving. Every year that I’ve been here, we’ve gotten better and stronger.”

Along with Cleland and Sheffield, Dennis will be counting on big things from seniors Yereni Gomez (captain, defense/midfielder), Stormy Pledger (goalkeeper; 133 saves last year), Tatiana Weatherly (defense), juniors Nallely Gallardo (defense), Melissa Holland (forward; 4 goals last year), Jessica Roadman (defense/midfielder), Ashleigh Schall (defense/midfielder), Taejae Williams (forward/midfielder; 6 goals last year), sophomore Tamber Creel (midfielder) and freshman Jamie Cherry (forward).

Cherry scored both of West Craven’s goals in the win over South Lenoir. Creel netted the lone goal in the team’s victory over East Carteret.

“We have some strong returning players on defense,” Dennis said. “They’ve worked together for a few years. We have a few good players up top. They’re young and we’re trying to get them into the groove of things. I think that will come with time.”

Dennis is hoping the team can jell quickly.

“The team needs to get together,” Dennis said. “Everybody has to work together. If we can have that, with the bonding and supporting each other, you can become successful.

“I hope I can help make this program go a little further every year.”

The Eagles play at 6 p.m. Wednesday at home against East Carteret.


Kevin Travis can be reached at 252-635-5669 or at ktravis@freedomenc.com.

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