Wildcats aiming for first league title
Smith returns to lead De Soto soccer team
One goal has eluded De Soto soccer teams in the five years head coach Mike Murphy has been at the school. De Soto hasn't won a Kaw Valley crown during that time span.
Murphy would like to see that change this year.
"We've always had a winning record the past five years," he said. "But we have never won the league. It kind of makes you scratch your head when you stop to think that you've had winning records every year, but yet never won the league crown."
Though he stresses he wants the team to take the season one game at a time, it is evident the Kaw Valley title is a huge goal for the coach.
Especially when he considers how successful the past five league winners have been in the post season.
If De Soto does win the league title and play deep into the playoffs, they will have to get big time play from a couple of returning starters.
Two-time all conference selection Jesse Smith returns for his third year as a starter. The junior has led De Soto in scoring the past two years and is expected to carry the load again this year.
"Jesse loves soccer and plays it year around," Murphy said. "He has excellent ball skills and accuracy. Plus, he has excellent athletic ability, great strength and is very quick."
Last season's goalkeeper Harley Mostaffa returns for his senior season, and Murphy hopes he returns to the form he possessed toward the end of last season.
His defense late in the year almost earned the Wildcats an upset win over Lansing, which a week earlier destroyed the Wildcats 9-1.
The second-team all-conference goalkeeper is a very strong player who has excellent leg strength and showed it on his goal kicks a year ago.
Up from the junior varsity squad will be junior Sean Karashin who will give the Wildcats an excellent combination in the goal.
Though he isn't as strong as Mostaffa with his goal kicks, Karashin has excellent instincts in the goal, Murphy said.
Sophomore Jordan Hevel will step into a forward spot and will be a nice complement to Smith.
"Smith and Hevel work very well together," the coach said.
Senior Jesse Wilson and junior James Azeltine will fill in for the departed Willie Meier and Todd Manson at stopper and sweeper, respectively.
Senior Tyler Johnson has been an example to the rest of his teammates because of his work ethic.
His coach said he was a tough player that should make life easier for Smith in the middle.
"Having Tyler in the middle will help keep some of the double teams off of Jesse," Murphy said.
Junior Tyler Maniez and sophomore Kyle Bray are also expected to bring their game to another level, and Luke Zarda will be called upon to take some shots from the right wing.
Although Murphy expected Smith to handle the brunt of the scoring, he acknowledged other players would be able to pick up some of the offensive load as well.