With 10 of 11 starters returning from last season, the East Wake boys soccer team will rely on a deep cast of veteran leadership in their second year under coach Michael Howes.
After a two-win season in 2012, Howes helped the Warriors improve to 7-9-2 and qualify for the playoffs last fall. Almost the entirety of that 2013 squad is back for East Wake this season, hoping to take advantage of their familiarity and chemistry in the choppy Greater Neuse River 4A Conference.
“I have a lot of experience that I’m putting on the field,” said Howes, who is beginning his second season coaching in North Carolina after 25 years in Virginia. “The boys have set some very high goals for themselves, but I just want to stay realistic.”
Seniors Jason Dean (keeper) and Cody Staples (right defender) will anchor the backfield. Both played major roles on last year’s team, and Howes expects even more impact from each this fall.
“(Dean) was stellar last year for us; he made a lot of great saves and kept us in games,” Howes said. “He was responsible for a couple of our wins. (Staples is) a pretty special kid. He has great leadership qualities and the boys really listen to him.”
Defense looks to be a strength for the Warriors, as Staples will be joined in the back by three other players Howes listed as key starters on the team: defenders Will Clement and Jamante Smith and defensive midfielder Lane Garrett.
Luis Chavez, one of last season’s leading scorers, returns to head the Warriors’ offensive attack.
Chavez will serve as right midfielder on the soccer team and as placekicker on the football team. Howes raved about the senior’s conditioning and “thunder shot.”
He’ll be called upon to lead a young cast of fellow scorers, including junior Eric Laredo (left midfielder) and sophomore striker Vicente Gallardo.
A key fixture in the starting 11 will be junior Johnny Odette, who is entering his third season as a starter. After playing through a ruptured appendix in a crucial 3-2 win over West Johnson last October, Odette returns to the squad healthy and slotted in the ever-important center midfielder role.
East Wake begins its 2014 campaign on Wednesday, Aug. 20, against Millbrook, the first of four non-conference home games to kick off the season. Three of the four opponents – Millbrook, Cary, Holly Springs and Wake Forest – advanced to the state playoffs last season.
“We do start out with some very tough teams,” said Howes, “and I’m very happy about that, because it’s going to challenge my boys.”
The Warriors figure to be a legitimate contender, however, in the conference season and beyond.
Howes is excited about the experience and athleticism his squad boasts – and confident enough to carry only 16 players on the varsity roster. “I have a lot of team speed; I think that’s one of the things I’m happiest about. I have guys that can move ... into other player’s positions,” he said.
Six of the team’s eight regular-season losses last year were by one-goal margins. Howes isn’t sure his team will be able to catch up to top-GNRC contenders Garner and Clayton, which swept East Wake last season and posted a combined 25-2-1 record, but he does expect a winning season of at least 10 victories.
“We have a veteran group this year, and I’m hoping that they’ll play that way,” he said.