Experience, skill could make for big season for soccer team
It hasn't been a bad stretch of seasons for the De Soto Wildcat soccer team. The Cats have finished with identical 9-9 records in each of the last two years.
Not bad, but not exactly the rut the team wants to be in. As a new season is setting off, the Cats are convinced this is the year they'll boot mediocrity.
"We're actually better than we were last year, even though we lost some good players," senior Zach England said. "We've lost in the regional championship two years in a row now and it's not going to happen again."
There are several big holes to fill on this year's squad, primarily on defense. In Brady Seaman, Gene Crosby and several others the Cats lost experience. They return plenty, however, and De Soto coach Darren Erpelding said this could be the fastest and most complete team in his three-year tenure.
What the Cats lost on defense they could make up in offense. Leading the way will be England, who'll return for his fourth year as one of the team's leaders. He scored 15 goals last year, as many as the next four players combined.
While never one to blitz past defenders, England has found his success with superb ball control, something that's only gotten better with age.
"He gets in those zones and I just let him go, sometimes," Erpelding said. "This year his game is really going to get so much better."
It's not just age that Erpelding's counting on to mature England's game. He said years of experience playing alongside some of the other players should finally pay off.
Erpelding said a lot of the underclassmen who earned minutes a year ago return, not just with the added experience, but also with swelled confidence. He's already seen England have more confidence in his fellow attackers in practice, and for a player who at times took on too much by himself, that could be a very promising development.
"Our team's pretty young -- they're mostly sophomores and juniors," England said. "But we also have a lot of seniors to pick up the younger guys.
"It should be different than last year. We have a lot better team chemistry. A lot of us are friends outside soccer and it wasn't like that."
Returning to help score the ball is senior Scott McKechnie. He tied for second on the team with four goals last season, but has already impressed Erpelding enough to make him think that mark might be in jeopardy.
He's one of only three returning Cats to have scored last year.
"Scott's such a great kid," Erpelding said. "He's a good player and once he breaks out of his shell and decides he's going to go all out and do whatever it takes, he's going to be great.
"He's going to have a great season and he'll be a leader."
Elsewhere the Cats are also relying on players who picked up some experience a year ago, but are adapting to larger or entirely different roles.
Erpelding said Derek Summer and TJ Blankenship will go a long way toward solidifying the defense with their speed and ball skills. He said he's thrilled with the progress senior Paul Oswald has made, and that Tyler Phongsavath could emerge as one of the best goalkeepers in the state.
Phongsavath battled both injuries and graduated senior Jake Sosna to earn playing time in his first two seasons, but as a junior should have the goalkeeping responsibilities all to himself.
"Tyler has lost 15 or 20 pounds and he's going to be a phenomenal goalkeeper," Erpelding said. "He's becoming a player. He's got a real mental edge this season. He has some of the best ball skills on the team because he's just always messing with the ball."
Erpelding said he's also expecting much bigger roles for sophomores Duncan Henderson, who played much of last season, Sammy Siebolt, who missed much of the year with a broken foot, and Brett Hevel.
"All those guys do is play," Erpelding said. "They just love having the ball on their foot.
"There are some many guys that have made great strides. I'm really excited for this season."