Tuscola High School has hired five new athletic coaches for the 2022-23 season, and promoted three coaches to assistant athletic directors.
On the girls’ side, Christie Krueger will coach volleyball, and Rumi Kakareka will coach tennis.
For the boys’ side, there are three new faces: Ray Smith for basketball, Ulises Gamez for soccer and Houston McCracken for wrestling.
“We are very grateful for the hard work and time that our coaches put in to develop our student athletes,” said Tuscola athletic director Laura Turner.
“After the loss of several coaches to retirement and personal reasons, Tuscola has been very fortunate to hire some very talented coaches with great backgrounds. We are excited about what each of these coaches can bring to our athletic department and to Tuscola High School.”
Turner also promoted three new assistant athletic directors from among its coaching staff: Austin Chambers, Austin Sluder and Zach Shepherd.
Chambers is an assistant coach on the football and girls’ basketball teams, Sluder is the head golf and junior varsity football coach and Shepherd is the head baseball coach.
Krueger will become the head coach of Tuscola volleyball this season.
Krueger fills the vacancy left by Amanda Belue, who resigned at the end of last season.
She attended Warner Southern in Lake Wales, Florida, where she played setter and back row defense. Krueger also played in the Jose Cuervo Beach Tour and later coached her daughter competitively.
Krueger fell in love with North Carolina while visiting family in Boone and knew she would eventually move to the area. Her family relocated about three months ago from South Florida after a career in school administration.
As a football mom — her son Joshua is a rising junior at Tuscola — Krueger said she “started getting involved in the Big T Club, and they said we need a volleyball coach,” so she stepped up.
“It’s been really good. The other football moms have been incredibly welcoming, which has really eased my transition,” Krueger said.
As a coach, Krueger started an open gym the week after school ended, and the volleyball team is now practicing Monday through Thursday, with up to 25 girls attending.
“My goal is to build confident girls with the mindset that we’re the same team and what you can do on the court you can anywhere,” she said.
Krueger works as a consultant and knows the value businesses place on former athletes in the workforce.
“The most recruited individuals for open roles are former athletes because they are committed, dedicated and they know what it takes. They can really take those skills and apply them to the job,” she said. “I’m raising community-minded, committed and adults with strong work ethics.”
Tuscola volleyball went 7-14 overall in 2021-22 (4-8, tied for fifth in Mountain 7). Although Tuscola didn’t win as many matches as they probably would’ve preferred the volleyball season included several highlights.
After falling behind two sets to none early, the Mounties posted a come-from-behind win over rival Franklin after falling to the Panthers in straight sets earlier in the year. The Mountaineers earned a state playoff berth.
All-Mountain Seven honorees: Sr. S Addison Wyatt, Sr. MH Delany Buchanan, Sr. RS Hannah Wells.
Pisgah and Tuscola will have new head volleyball coaches next season after Pisgah hired former WCU standout Katie O’Connor.
Karareka is not a new face to Tuscola tennis, having coached the girls’ team twice, most recently in 2018-19. Now he’ll step in for Andrew Johnson, who will solely coach the boys’ side in 2022-23.
After leaving Tuscola in 2019, Kakareka coached in Washington D.C. and later taught clinics in WNC. Most recently, he was assistant tennis director at the Asheville Racquet Club (ARC).
“I like being local,” he said.
Kakareka said that he enjoyed his time at Tuscola previously and hopes to instill a love of the game in his players.
“I’d like to teach them how to play tennis and actually enjoy playing. For me, tennis is a sport for life. If I can teach them how to play and enjoy it, that’s really my goal,” he said.
Last season, girls’ tennis went 9-4 (8-4, third in Mountain 7), putting together one of the most successful seasons in recent program history.
The duo of Anneke Lam and Cooper Richardson, both seniors, made it all the way to the state championship final before losing their first doubles match. Richardson also went 12-1 overall at the No. 2 singles slot. Kakareka coached the pair when they were freshmen.
Freshman Sierra Sellars also stood out in her first year of high school tennis, going 12-1 at the three seed.
The Mounties also earned a pair of hard-fought team wins over rival Pisgah.
Postseason honors: Sr. Cooper Richardson: Mountain 7 Player of the Year, 3A State runner-up (doubles). Sr. Anneke Lam: All-Conference, 3A State runner-up (doubles). Fr. Sierra Sellars: All-Conference, regionals qualifier (singles).
Kakareka said he has met a few of the girls on the team and practices begin July 18.
Smith will take over boys’ basketball coaching duties from Nathan Messer, who resigned after the season.
Messer said resigning was a family decision.
“It’s time for a new face to come in and a young kid to take over. I think Ray Smith will do a good job,” Messer said.
Smith was a football player at Swain County High School who played quarterback at East Carolina University and Western Carolina University.
At Swain, Smith played varsity basketball all four years, and was selected for the Blue-White Game his senior year.
Smith was junior varsity basketball coach at Swain for the past two years and was a varsity assistant last season.
He also coached in the Native American Youth Organization (NAYO) for two years prior to his tenure at Swain.
Since joining THS, Smith said the team has had summer workouts twice a week in June, and scrimmaged Andrews on June 20.
“It’s been awesome. [The team has] been very receptive. I’ve got a good group. They seem to be receptive to coaching and are detail-oriented,” Smith said.
Tuscola went 5-16 (1-11, seventh in Mountain 7) last season, but the boys and their coach look to rebound this season.
“I’ve brought it up [the record]. We need to start with the basics,” he said.
Smith said some people tell him that the program won’t succeed, but he said the team plans to surprise everybody.
“I hope everybody keeps that same mentality. We’re going to shock everybody,” Smith said.
McCracken, an assistant wrestling coach at Waynesville Middle School and assistant football coach at Tuscola, will take over the wrestling squad.
McCracken will continue as running backs coach for Tuscola football.
He replaces Kyle Katz.
A Tuscola alum, McCracken helped the WMS wrestling team to one of its best seasons last year, going undefeated and winning the conference.
“I’ve wrestled since I was four years old,” he said. “Wrestling has been something I’ve always loved.”
McCracken was a successful youth wrestler: a five-time state champion in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and AAU Southeastern National Champion.
He credits two coaches — Derwood Bynum at West Rowan and Jacky Roten by WMS — as two inspirations.
McCracken said the team reconvenes in July for two weeks of workouts.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good wrestlers. We’ve got a lot of returning wrestlers that didn’t wrestle last year. I’m excited for those guys to be back.”
Gamez, another Tuscola alum, will take over as head boys’ soccer coach this fall, replacing the departing Sugg.
Gamez was raised in Haywood County and played defensive midfielder all four years at Tuscola under Sugg.
“[Sugg] was the one who really made me want to pursue a career in coaching,” Gamez said. “He was a great leader, great person [and] everyone loved him.”
Gamez completed one volunteer season under Sugg and one under Ian Meeks. He coached one full season with Carolina Mountain Soccer Club, a 14U club soccer team.
He said the team is currently completing summer workouts.
“[It’s great to] see everyone come out, have some fun, get familiar with one another and build that chemistry early on, so when the season begins they can jump right in. As soon as that chemistry is built, we just have to do skill work and formations,” Gamez said.
The soccer squad was 8-10-1 (5-6-1, fifth in Mountain 7) last season.
Last year was the first year of Sugg’s second tenure at the helm of the Mountaineers, and the team competed closely with several top opponents, including a Senior Night double-overtime 2-1 victory over Smoky Mountain, who finished third in the conference. Tuscola also kept its soccer win streak alive in the Haywood County Clash, knocking off Pisgah by scores of 6-0 and 3-0. The Mounties also earned a state playoffs bid.
All-Mountain Seven honorees: Sr. MF Bryce Worley, Jr. D/F Ben Mehaffey, So. D Diego Hernandez. Worley and Mehaffey were also named All-Region.