HANNIBAL — Head Coach Eric Hill and members of the Hannibal Pirates Varsity Boys Soccer team achieved success through a family atmosphere, looking back on a strong 2019 season with a 17-7 record.
Hill said many underclassmen stepped up for starting positions as the season began — seniors Nathan DeStefane and Mason Tharp helped teammates “lead by example,” and players who secured starting positions during practice felt the need to perform their best in a competitive atmosphere with teammates who were also ready to take the lead. Several family members played together this year, like Parker Terrill, his brother, Tristen, and their cousin, Blayde; along with brothers Kolin Westhoff and Karson Westhoff and first-cousins Tharp and Kayne Whitley. From practice sessions to games, the players and their coach became a close-knit group.
“They cared for each other and they wanted to win,” Hill said. “They talked each other up, tried to pump each other up, instead of getting onto somebody if they made a mistake. They tried get them to stay positive and keep it going for the next one.”
The team members felt the same way about how Hill created a positive and challenging environment for each athlete, regardless of their skill level. He coaches boys and girls soccer teams from second grade through junior varsity and varsity levels, making himself available to athletes and parents on a daily basis.He also leads the athletes on a yearly “Kickin' Cancer” fundraiser to benefit the Patient Assistance Fund at the James E. Cary Cancer Center.
“His personality is as good as his coaching,” Kolin Westhoff said. DeStefane felt that Hill made a profound impact on his life.
“Coach Hill has been a consistent role model for me these last four years. He pushes me to be successful on the soccer field and with my academics. Coach is someone that I look up to on the soccer field as well as in everyday life. His influence has had an impact on my actions — how I carry myself (on or off the field) and how I treat others,” DeStefane said. “He develops a personal relationship with all students and players in an attempt to bring the best out of everyone. I would not be the athlete I am today or more importantly the person that I am today without the guidance, leadership and compassion that Coach Hill has used to greatly affect my life.”
Tharp remembered how he came to Hill, who got him into soccer his freshman year with no prior experience. Hill “kept pushing me all four years to get better and better.” Looking back on his senior year and all the skills he developed, Tharp is now at a place where he can play for a college team.
“He just never let me quit,” Tharp said.
Hill said the season consisted of many close games consisting of one, two or three goals. Those games helped the players respond effectively to the tight level of competition and “fight for every win.” Hill said the hard work and willingness to step up from underclassmen along with the effective leadership from upperclassmen led to a successful result.
“This team exceeded expectations for just about everybody, including myself,” Hill said. “I didn't think that we would have the record that we would have — I thought that we would be OK — I didn't think that we would finish 17-7.”
Tristen Terrill said the team played together well based on trust between the teammates. He said “it was pretty cool” to have his brother, Parker, as goalie and his cousin, Blayde, playing defense as center back. And he was quick to commend all the other players who worked together.
“Honestly, the whole team was kind of like brothers, and you could trust any of them — always count on everyone,” he said. “Everyone's been like family.”