April 19, 2013 2:15:27 AM
CALEDONIA -- Patience is an often underappreciated element of coaching.
Mike Sullivan has learned the value of that trait in his years as men's and women's soccer coach at Itawamba Community College. Sullivan preaches to students and family members that it is best to take plenty of time to make informed decisions when selecting a college.
Little did Sullivan know that Josh Kugel was going to put his patience to the test.
For the better part of this school year, Sullivan has imagined how Kugel, a midfielder on the Caledonia High School boys soccer team, could fit in with his ICC men's team. He talked with Kugel and his parents, attended his matches, showed him around the ICC campus in Fulton, and stressed just how much he wanted him to join his program. Then he waited. Through the waiting, Sullivan held out hope Kugel would decide ICC was the place for him.
Sullivan's patience was rewarded Thursday morning, as Kugel signed a scholarship to join the ICC men's soccer program.
"The timing of it really just depended on what I needed to do at the time," Kugel said. "I was sitting thinking how my life was going to turn out and if I really wanted to do this, and this is what I need to do to stay on the right path."
Kugel paced Caledonia with 13 goals and six assists (32 points) this season. Also a kicker on the school's football team, Kugel said Thursday he wrestled with the decision of where he wanted to go to school and whether he wanted to continue his soccer career or his football career in college. He admitted he went back and forth and at times wondered if he was committed to continue to play soccer. Ultimately, though, his passion for a game he has been playing for years won out and convinced him to stick with soccer.
"Football is still an option down the road, but soccer is mainly what I want to do right now," Kugel said. "I have done it my whole life, and basically it is my comfort zone. It is what I am good at and what I need to stick to."
Caledonia coach Marco Suarez said Kugel, the team's MVP, was a force in the middle of the field who elevated the play of everyone around him. He said Kugel had a great touch and excellent field vision. He also had the knack for scoring from distance and making things happen for teammates.
"He is one of the players who can play any position," Suarez said. "He has great skills. His dribbling is great and his shooting is excellent. His personality was great. He got along with everyone on the field. It is really sad to see him go because he is probably one of the best players on the team.
Sullivan has seen all of those skills for a number of years. He said he has followed Kugel's maturation in high school and believes he is the "final piece" of a large freshman class he has coming in for the 2013 season. That group includes Starkville High's Dylan Howard, The Dispatch's All-Area Boys Soccer Player of the Year, Columbus High's Ricky Hackler, and Amory High's Joseph Summers, Garrett Trautman, and Evan Thomas.
ICC also figures to return former Caledonia High players Nick May and Drew Hankins.
Kugel has played with or against many of ICC's incoming or current players, either in high school or on Select teams. Sullivan envisions Kugel fitting in well with Howard in the midfield, but he said he will have to wait to see how all of the first-year players work together before deciding on positions for everyone. Still, he believes the versatility and skills Kugel and many of the incoming freshman possess will give him a great problem to decipher.
Thanks to patience, Sullivan will get to tackle that dilemma in a few more months.
"I always like to exercise patience when it coms to good players," Sullivan said. "I told him when he contacted me to say he had made his mind up and he really wanted to come if there was still a spot, I told him the truth that I had been holding a spot," Sullivan said. "I had been hoping he would come. ... I don't want to curse us, but we have signed a really good class."
Sullivan feels Kugel will play right away because he is a strong player with plenty of skill. He said Kugel's experience at higher levels also should ease his transition to the junior college game.
"We're hoping for big things next year, and we hope Josh can be a big part of that," Sullivan said.
It wasn't until about a week ago, though, that Kugel decided ICC was the right fit. Sullivan knew Kugel hadn't made a decision to attend another college. He also said he didn't have anybody else on his radar to give a scholarship to, so he didn't have a problem waiting and waiting ... and waiting some more.
"Sometimes it works out like that," Sullivan said. "It is literally the most important decision they're making so far because he is changing his address and, hopefully, we're going to do some exciting things in the next two years."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.