Soccer hopes to rebound
There's a lot of soccer programs around the state that would take a 9-9 season sandwiched between more successful campaigns and be happy.
It's not the kind of thing that flies with the De Soto soccer team though. The Wildcats -- memories of their 2003 run to the state title game still rattling in their heads -- weren't happy with the 2005 campaign, and they figure they have all of 2006 to prove they're still among the state's best when it comes to boys soccer.
"We have a lot of young kids, but we have a lot of talent," senior Brady Seaman said. "Last year was a step down. We didn't have any team chemistry and now we do."
De Soto coach Darren Erpelding will begin his second season as the boys head coach when the Cats open Aug. 25 at home against Basehor-Linwood, and he said he has plenty of things he plans on changing. All of it, he hopes, will amount to a return to the upper echelons of Class 4A high school soccer.
First to be changed will be the Wildcats offense.
De Soto scored at will at times in 2005, but all too often the team's attack could only be described as inconsistent.
Zach England and Seaman return after leading the team with 19 and 14 goals respectively, but as a whole, the team was anything but powerful.
The Cats went nearly 300 minutes without a goal through the middle of the season, a streak that cost the team dearly. After winning the first four games of the season, De Soto dropped six straight at one point.
Erpelding said he's pushing two ideas in hopes of developing a more dependable offense. He's asking his players to work more on shot form and technique, and he's adopting a new formation that should complement a pass-happy approach.
"We're going to move Zach to the midfield," Erpelding said of the junior, whom he said he considers one of the best three players in Class 4A. "It's a lot tougher to mark a guy in the midfield than it is to mark him up top. Zach and Brady play so well together, with our speed up top and the system we're in, I think it'll free him up a lot more."
By moving England and Seaman into the middle, Erpelding said he hopes to draw defenders and free up shots for more players.
He also said it's a key to the team's newest offensive formation. Erpelding introduced a new style last season when he dumped De Soto's old kick-it-long-and-run-it-down strategy, and he said the new style took some getting used to.
Now he's introducing a new phase of that plan, and he said he's confident his players are ready.
"Last year we didn't have enough skill in passing to really have a build up and counter. We'd lose possession," he said. "This year we have the skill and we have the speed to be able to counter to make five, six or seven in a row and get a shot off.
"I knew we would struggle last year, but this year, I told these guys we're going to be great or we're going to be bad."
The coach and veteran players alike all commented on the team's incoming class of freshmen. Erpelding said as many as six could see significant varsity minutes while somecould vie for starting spots.
Can it all add up to a successful season and a run deep into October's regional playoffs? Erpelding certainly had his players believing so.
"There's a lot more skill on this team," England said. "We want to go to state. That was our goal last year, too, but it wasn't attainable then. We weren't as good last year. We might be a lot younger this year, but we have more teamwork and more skill."