Here’s an early look at a story that will be in Sunday’s paper from correspondent Jason Gilmer.
WAYNESVILLE – No public-address announcer made fans aware that Ben Nickol had broken a record, mainly because no one knew.
Nickol, a Wofford College commitment who’ll sign in February, scored 44 goals for Tuscola in the fall, demolishing the school record of 37 goals. Nickol wasn’t sure of the previous record (and officials still aren’t certain of the exact number) until he’d already finished his stellar season.
“Some very good soccer players like playing with the ball,” said Mountaineers coach Ray Sugg. “Ben’s main focus was putting it past you and putting it in the goal. It wasn’t a lot of tight dribbling moves. He’d just knock it past you, outrun you and bury the shot.”
Nickol wrapped up his career with 84 goals, tying Joey West’s school record. West, who graduated in 1999, is one of two Mountaineers (the other was Charlie Cardwell in 2003) to play in the East-West All-Star game, a game that Nickol could also take part in.
If it weren’t for a broken ankle during his sophomore season Nickol, whose speed is a big weapon, would own the record outright. He scored 10 goals as a freshman, two before his injury the next year and then pounded 30 goals as a junior.
“I think we were a lot better (this year) than we were the year before,” Nickol said of his team. “We pulled through this year and I had a lot more opportunities on goal this year.”
His teammates became more apt at finding open spaces which allowed Nickol to use his speed and run to the ball instead of waiting for it to arrive.
Nickol helped the Mountaineers to their first outright Western North Carolina Athletic Conference championship as they finished 12-2 in conference play. Nickol, who posted six hat tricks and 11 assists, earned co-offensive player of the year for the conference in addition to a spot on the Citizen-Times All-WNC team.
“No one player could mark him,” said Sugg, who won the WNCAC coach of the year award. “Even in games when he wasn’t scoring goals, which wasn’t often, the entire defense was focused on him which created scoring opportunities for other players.”
The Mountaineers finished 17-6 overall and advanced to the second round of the 3-A state playoffs.
“We went to the playoffs and, honestly, you’ve got to put that on Ben,” said Sugg, who stepped down as the coach after the season. “He was the biggest reason for our success.”
The goal-scorer chose Wofford over UNC Asheville, UNC Greensboro, Presbyterian College and the College of Charleston. He picked the Terriers after a visit to the school where he experienced its community feel and learned more about its academic prowess.
The soccer program was also a good fit and Nickol said he would still be a forward and striker in college. The Terriers finished 9-7-2 overall this season and were 4-5-1 in Southern Conference play.
“I think I should see the field as a freshman,” he said, “but you never know until the preseason begins and how the season progresses.”