For many of the varsity boys soccer teams in the local coverage area, youth and potential are the words that come to mind as they approach the dawn of a new fall season.
For those lucky enough to have experienced upperclassmen, contending for conference titles and making deep runs in the playoffs look to be achievable goals.
However, how quickly the talented underclassmen develop and adjust to the varsity level will play a big role in deciding conference races down the stretch.
Three local teams made the postseason last year.
Coach Aaron Steele hopes the preseason chat he had with the Knights’ girls soccer team in the spring will work for the boys team this fall.
The 2015 Knightdale boys went 7-17 (5-9 Greater Neuse River 4A), falling short of the playoffs. But Steele took the reins of that team one day before tryouts.
“This year, I’ve had the summer to prep and develop the players so we’re ready,” Steele said. “We have set a high standard from Day One.”
As he did with the girls team in the spring, Steele aims for the boys team to reach at least the second round of the playoffs.
What Steele considers a special group of players is led by seniors Victor Vargas and Josh Weddle. Both are midfielders who have taken on leadership roles.
He’s also impressed with junior forward Brooks Poirier, a second-year varsity player whose “soccer intelligence is way up there.”
Knightdale returns its entire defensive line composed of senior Kyle Ferrell, juniors David Mills and Jake Fortner, and sophomore Alexis Candela.
The Knights only started three seniors last year, meaning experienced players are back to fill key roles.
“When I tell them about potential and performance, I tell them this is a conference title-winning team,” Steele said. “It’s just a matter of us staying healthy and playing the right way, and we’re there. I don’t think people are really gunning for them to be the conference champion, but they respect we are a better team this year.”
The Warriors are reloading to some extent, having lost 10 seniors to graduation including longtime key players Layne Gairrett, Eric Laredo and Johnny Odette.
“But we have a good core of rising seniors, with nine seniors on the team,” said Athletic Director Jonathan Hasbrouck, who is back in coach’s seat for the first time in four years.
Among those seniors are Garrett Johnson (midfield/backfield), Miguel Valdivia (goalkeeper/midfield), Khadeem Dublin (midfield/backfield), and Jake Clement (backfield). Vicente Gallardo (forward/midfield) returns for his senior season with East Wake after playing with the Capital Area RailHawks Academy.
Hasbrouck takes over Michael Howes’ team that went 10-10-2 overall and 6-4-2 for a third-place finish in the Greater Neuse River 4A.
The Warriors are coming off a season where they stunned Jack Britt, 4-1, in the first round of the 4A playoffs before falling to Enloe, 1-0, in the second round.
If promise exists in a defeat, the Warriors opened the season with a 1-0 loss on a penalty kick early in their game against Cap-8 Broughton on Monday. Then, on Wednesday, East Wake dominated Cap-8 Wake Forest, 7-1.
East Wake Academy
The Eagles’ 2015 season concluded with a 7-12-2 (4-11-1 North Central Athletic 1A) mark after a 3-2 loss at East Carteret in the 1A playoffs.
“There were a lot of games last year we probably should have competed more in and won, but I got hit with injuries right about the start of the conference season,” said coach Michael Sloop.
While East Wake Academy lost scoring leader Ryan Hayworth and a top conference goalkeeper in Nate Figueroa to graduation, several key contributors are back.
Seven seniors return to the Eagles’ roster, including center midfielder and third-year captain Bruce Campos (eight goals, 15 assists in 2015) and utility player and second-year captain Payton Weatherspoon (4 goals).
“He’s kind of the guy who leads up the play to get the assist or get the goal,” Sloop said of Weatherspoon.
Another Weatherspoon, Payton’s brother Drake, who had five goals and seven assists last season, is back as a junior forward.
“A realistic goal would be to finish in the top half of the conference – a fifth-place or better finish,” Sloop said. “The conference we play in is extremely difficult with Woods Charter, Franklin Academy and Raleigh Charter in there. More than anything, we want to win a first-round playoff game.”
The Eagles have made the playoffs each of the past three seasons.
The Pirates are coming off of a second-round defeat in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A playoffs and finished just a half a game behind Cleveland in the Two Rivers Conference race a year ago.
Despite losing a pair of all-state players in Derek Kaple and Pedro Segundo to graduation, Corinth Holders will field a team that brings a lot of experienced players back.
Returning seniors will be midfielder Dillon Parker, defender Tyler Mills, midfielder Jacob Meierer, midfielder Miguel Ibarra, defender Ryan McDaniel, and defender Alex Restrepo.
Junior Adam Landeros totaled 16 goals and 9 assists last season and the tireless Parker added 12 goals and led the team with 16 assists.
Ryan Mills returns in goal for the Pirates, which is a good thing as the sophomore registered seven shutouts in his freshman season. Alexis Avila and Dalton Forrest each scored 32 goals for the JV team a year ago and will look to bolster the attack.
“With the new NCHSAA rule where only the conference champion is guaranteed an automatic playoff berth, every conference game will be important,” said veteran coach Brent Walston, entering his 26th year coaching. “I hope we have a good preseason that will carry over into our conference season giving us an opportunity to be playing meaningful games in late October and November.”