The Wheelersburg Pirates have a history of producing top-notch athletic programs and premier athletes. The latest example comes from the Pirate soccer program, where junior Christian Hughes is quickly making a name for himself.
Hughes has been a consistent scoring threat, leading the team in goals. However, despite possessing the athletic ability, the success Hughes is enjoying wasn’t always a forgone conclusion.
As a freshman, Hughes struggled with his mental approach to the game, often blaming himself after every little mistake.
“I had a pretty bad attitude,” Hughes said. “If I took one bad shot, it would control how I would play the rest of the day, whether it would be at practice or at the game, and I’d just let it get the best of me.”
His psyche wasn’t helped by the typical “freshman jitters” that most high-school athletes endure. However, after his first season concluded, his second campaign had looked promising — until he broke his foot early in the season against Waverly.
The injury took a little less than two months to heal, and upon his return Hughes scored a goal against the Tigers in his first game back, which was a highlight in a dim sophomore season.
Despite the struggles over his first two years, Hughes continued to develop his trait. During the winter, spring and summer months, Hughes entered various soccer tournaments to hone his skills. Hughes has relished the opportunity to play opponents from across the country and in some cases, across the ocean.
“When you play against people from oversees, you don’t know what to expect,” Hughes said. “When you’re playing people from around here, you kind of know what to expect. They tend to play the same style of game that you do.”
Even though he physically and mentally prepared for his junior campaign, Hughes wasn’t even ready for the success he quickly enjoyed.
“My junior year as surprised me. It has been my best year of soccer that I’ve ever had,” Hughes said.
Hughes credits first-year Pirates head coach Jon Estep for his personal success and the success of the team.
“This year has been motivational,” Hughes said. “It’s been exciting. Everyday at practice, it’s something different. It’s continuing to be fun, it’s not the same old boring drills.”
Of course, the main barrier Hughes worked hard to overcome was his mental focus.
“I have matured a lot,” Hughes said. “I don’t get mad at myself anymore. I just kind of laugh and brush it off. I couldn’t tell you how many people tell me how bad my attitude use to be. I play way better as a team player now. I don’t get mad now.”
Hughes isn’t quick to dismiss his past temper, but instead, he takes advantage of his mistakes and teaches the younger players how to deal with their own failures.
“Now that I’m older and I look down onto the freshman and sophomores, I was in their shoes once,” Hughes said. “I know how it feels. I try not to let them get into the same bad habits that I use to have — like getting mad at themselves.”
Hughes has embraced a leadership role for the Pirates and he knows his teammates are going to be crucial to achieving the lofty goals Hughes has set for them.
“I definitely want to win SOC because the last two years, it has been taken away from us,” Hughes said. “I want to win district and I definitely want to go to regionals.
“One of my higher goals is to get to the Elite Eight or Final Four in the state.”
Reach Chris Slone at 740-353-3101, ext 1930, or on Twitter @crslone.