For many of the varsity boys soccer teams in eastern Wake County and all of Johnston County, 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 freshmen and sophomores develop and adjust to the varsity level will play a big role in deciding conference races down the stretch.
Locally, seven teams made the postseason last year and 12 players were named to their all-region teams with North Johnston’s Ian Walston and Wake Christian Academy’s Nate Brady the only ones back. The talent level looks to be perhaps even brighter with the incoming classes of players but only time will tell if and when that potential is realized.
From Garner’s non-conference slate against some of the heavier hitters in the Triangle to North Johnston’s preseason contests against Charlotte Latin and South Mecklenburg to the JUSA Cup, coaches are using the early weeks of the season to assess where they are and get ready once conference play arrives.
The defending Greater Neuse River Conference champions have a lot of roster spots to fill from last year’s team as 12 seniors graduated.
Fortunately for Clayton, a record number of kids at tryouts (over 60) means there are plenty of options available for Coach John Asmussen, who admits it is a tough process to rebuild.
“It’s not easy to do; we’ve lost 75 percent of our production, eight starters, every all-conference selection besides Jorge (Alonso),” said Asmussen. “It starts with the guys coming back: Jorge, Tyler Duncan and Caleb Rogers and then a bunch of guys have got to grow up quickly.”
Alonso scored 11 goals a season ago but his most valuable quality may be his leadership as his motivation and instruction on the pitch has helped the freshmen and sophomores in the early going at practice.
Duncan is a big presence on defense for the Comets; the versatile Rogers returns from an injury-plagued season and Keegan Mangiarcano also provides Clayton with some experience on the field.
Dennis Andino will be a nice piece of the puzzle as the sophomore comes to the Comets after spending last season in the Carolina Railhawks Academy program.
Garner coach Ben Bondurant was able to sum up his team in one word heading into the season: “youth.”
The Trojans lose nine seniors from their squad from a year ago and despite having several upperclassmen coming back, most of the players on the field for Garner, at times, this season will be underclassmen.
Sophomore Lucas Quiroga is back from a 10-goal season and Matthew Petherbridge is a talented senior midfielder who will provide the leadership for a young squad.
Amos Kalambayi and Shamari Henderson will be paired up in the back at defense.
One wildcard for Garner this year will come in senior Trevor Loureiro, a striker with a lot of speed who will be put on top for the Trojans.
Bondurant hopes a grueling non-conference schedule will help the youthful Trojans peak in time for conference play. Playing the likes of heavyweights Apex, Holly Springs, Millbrook, Middle Creek and Cardinal Gibbons, a key for the Trojans will be how they
“Our season is going to go by how fast we grow up,” said Bondurant. “We’re really going to be a young team. If we can weather the storm of the first few games and come together, these are really good boys with good attitudes and I’m excited to be with them.”
There are reasons for optimism for the Bulldogs this season as Southeast Raleigh lost just one senior to graduation from last year.
Eight seniors return to a team that finished 5-9 in the GNRC a year ago although three starters who moved or transferred will need to be replaced.
Southeast Raleigh swept Garner last season and had a big win over West Johnston but three one-goal conference defeats, including a pair of overtime heartbreakers against Knightdale and Rolesville, prevented the Bulldogs from making the state playoffs.
The strength for Southeast Raleigh may be found in front of its own goal, as Kurtis Ngygen will return as a three-year starter at goalkeeper.
Junior forward Anthony Andino and junior striker Cesar Gaiten were leading scorers from last year’s team and hope to make their mark again this season and help improve upon the 26 goals the Bulldogs scored in conference play.
Senior midfielder Filamon Gonzales is another player who looks set to make an impact once again.
“We hope to make the playoffs this year and compete,” said third year coach Derek Teel. “We have some new players but we are optimistic.”
West Johnston coach Luke Waddell named all of his seniors last season — five in number — as captains. Referees might frown upon a similar practice from Waddell this year as the Wildcats boast 16 seniors on their roster.
It’s not just the quantity of experienced players back that has the Wildcats thinking this could be their season, but the quality as well.
“This is probably the best squad this school has ever put together,” said Waddell. “It is very exciting.”
In Austin Stephens and Luis Molina, West Johnston returns two of the top three goal scorers in the GNRC from a year ago.
“At least 14 of the seniors that are together right now have been playing together since they were six years old,” said Stephens. “So, we’ve got amazing chemistry and we just pass the ball around a lot.”
The Wildcats may have the luxury to play a high pressure game for the entire 80 minutes, rotating players off the bench as needed.
In the midfield, senior leaders Gavin Brundidge, Caleb Wynne and Michael Hewitt will be at the heart of what the Wildcats want to do in terms of keeping possession and finding the dangerous attacking options such as Levi Martin, Molina and Stephens.
Gabe Early, Freddy Santos and Jordan Warren will be relied upon in the back.
Another returning conference champion losing a lot of players to graduation, the Rams will look to a new crop of new players coming up from the junior varisty team to help defend the Two Rivers 3A title.
“We have a good core of JV kids that we’ve moved up,” said Cleveland coach Nick Gruhn. “The younger guys have just got to get used to the speed of play and playing at that (varsity) level. As the season moves on, we should improve and be pretty competitive. We might struggle early on but we’ll get there.”
Ben Franklin and Esequial Cruz-Martinez will pair up as center backs for the Rams. The combination worked well on the JV team and Gruhn points to them as being a confident pairing that should anchor the back line fine.
In the midfield Joseph Martinez will lead the attack for the Rams. The senior tallied 12 goals last season and had nine assists. Joining Martinez will be Marvin Garcia, Nick Iuso,
Hunter Lee will be one of the main forwards the midfield will look to get the ball to in dangerous positions. Lee was a goal-scoring machine on the JV team and scored four goals in as many games on the varsity squad near the end of last season and Gruhn expects “big things from him up top”.
Austin Myrick will slot in at goalkeeper for the Rams.
The Pirates are coming off of a second round defeat in the state 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 pre-season that will carry over into our conference season giving us an opportunity to be playing meaningful games in late October and November.”
There will be a lot of new faces for the Spartans this season as second-year coach Austin Coates will have to rely on a lot of underclassmen to fill some pretty big shoes.
Gone all three all-region players in Alfredo Martinez, Nilton Perez and Jhonny Ventura who also happened to be the team’s top three scorers (58 goals combined).
Coates sees big things in store for a talented crop of sophomores but feels they may need to go about their business a little bit differently that last year’s standout performers.
“It’s a group of younger guys and they’ve got a ton of potential but they’re going to have to work harder than the kids they’ve looked up,” said Coates. “Things came to some of those guys a little more naturally. These guys just have to be willing focus, put their heads down and do some work. The potential is there.”
Behind a back line comprised entirely of players from the JV team a year ago, senior Chandler Lasater will be back for the Spartans in goal to provide some reassurance.
Ramon Jiminez and Jessi Vallecio will be part of the defensive back four for Smithfield-Selma. Senior Caleb Silver and his will be a solid piece for the Spartans in the midfield as could be sophomore Roger Salazar, who may also see time on defense.
Sam Jiminez will be one of the featured goal scorers at forward.
First-year coach Dave Diviak will join forces with assistant coach Edgar Herrera, the former South Johnston standout player, to help lead the Trojans on the pitch this season looking to push for a playoff berth.
Diviak will look to senior Zachary McLamb to “provide leadership and versatility on the field” while fellow senior Luis Garcia will return as goalkeeper.
Brayden Kauppi leads an experienced back four for South Johnston, who lost just five seniors from last season’s squad.
The midfield looks to be strength as Jonathan Guido, Israel Montoya and Aaron Peedin will combine to try to control the middle of the field for the Trojans.
Up top, junior striker Kyle Raulerson will be asked to find the back of the net.
“Our goal for this year is to build upon and restructure the program to allow us to be competitive both in and out of conference play,” said assistant coach Edgar Herrera. “Everyone wants to be at the top of the conference, so that’s the mentality and training we are trying to instill in our players this year.”
The Panthers are coming off of a record-setting season in which they won more games (21) than any other boy’s team in school history. North Johnston returns a trio of players who were named all-region: Tyler Jackson, Ricardo Padilla-Sanchez and Ian Walston, who was also named to the 2A all-state team a season ago.
Walston scored 42 goals and had 32 assists last year and can play pretty much anywhere on the pitch that Edwards needs.
Sweeper Padilla-Sanchez is a four-year starter and Jackson (21 goals, 8 assists) returns at center back. JoJo Richardson and Rakim Stancil will be the outside backs.
Adolpho Rosales will organize the team from center midfielder position and will be joined by Carlos Aguilar, Alexis Hernandez. Jeremiah Coley and Connor Cook will provide some added senior leadership.
“We’ve just got to work on team chemistry,” North Johnston coach Jody Edwards said. “Individual players can win a game but teams are going to win championships. It all depends how they mold as a team.”
A preseason trip to Charlotte focusing on team-building that includes games against Charlottle Latin and defending 4A champions South Mecklenburg will test and hopefully bring together a very talented North Johnston side.
“We’ve got every bit of skill on the team that we need; we’ve just got to get everybody together,” said senior defender JoJo Richardson. “We all play really well together. We know what everybody can do and can’t do on the team.”
The Cougars enter their fourth year as a varsity program and hope a strong nucleus of players will help breed more success this time around.
Neuse Charter has four seniors and three juniors this year but a sophomore class of seven will be heavily involved in learning on the job.
“We don’t have a lot of soccer players; we have a lot of other sport first (players),” said first year coach Jeremy Repka. “We’re not going to be the most technical team in the world but we’re going to play as hard as we can and see what happens.”
Senior goalkeeper Jeffrey Wilkins will be called upon again to be the last line of defense for the Cougars in a difficult Carolina 1A Conference from which Neuse Charter’s best result was a 2-2 tie late in the season at home against Princeton.
The midfield is where the playmakers take up residence for Neuse Charter as Alex Gonzalez and Alex Klisiewecz will be asked to help transition into the attack. Michael Leix figures to be “a main player” as well for the team.
It’s an attack that lost its main scoring threat from a year ago in Vance Neville.
“Goal scoring will probably be hard for us,” Repka said. “It might be hard to score but we’re just going to go out there, have fun and do the best we can.”
First-year coach Michael King will work to help Princeton up its offensive production after the Bulldogs totaled just 18 goals in 19 matches last season. The Bulldogs were 1-16-2 and in the tough Carolina 1A Conference ranks, which saw two squads (James Kenan and Rosewood) win 16 or more matches last season.
Princeton opens the season on Tuesday with a tough test against North Johnston.
Wake Christian plays in one of the deepest boys soccer conferences in the Triangle area with usually a nationally-ranked team or two in the mix, so, on paper, entering that competition with a pretty young team (just three returning starers back) isn’t ideal.
But veteran Bulldogs coach Wayne Helder likes what he’s seen so far in practice.
“We’re showing a great deal of chemistry as a group so far,” he said. “I feel like we’re showing every indication that we’re a team that could over-achieve and surprise some people.”
Seniors Jacob Swartz and Austin Hallstrand join junior standout scorer Nate Brady as the leading returnees. Swartz is shifting back in the formation to anchor a defense of entirely new starters.
“We graduated our entire back four and goalkeeper,” Helder said. “But Jacob is doing a great job of adjusting to his new role and leading a young bunch.”
Jack Curtis, who saw some time on varsity last season, will man the goal.
Hallstrand is back in the midfield, as is Brady, who could move around on the field to try and make it tougher for teams to mark him.
“He’s the most well-known player we have, both on the high school and club circuit,” Helder said of Brady. “He knows he’s probably going to have to work a little harder to get the ball in space.”
Will Auerweck and Gavin Russell, who split time between varsity and junior varsity play, will be key parts of the Bulldog offense as well.
The 2016 JUSA Cup
All matches at Clayton High School
Monday, Aug. 15: Match 1 — West Johnston (visitor) vs. Smithfield-Selma (home), 6; Match 2 — Cleveland (visitor) vs. South Johnston (home), 8
Tuesday, Aug. 16: Match 3 — Smithfield-Selma/West winner (visitor) vs. Corinth Holders (home), 6; Match 4 — South Johnston/Cleveland winner (visitor) vs. Clayton (home), 8
Wednesday, Aug. 17: Game 5, Consolation Match — Loser Match 1 (visitor) vs. Loser Match 2 (home), 6; Match 6, Championship: Game 3 winner (visitor) vs. Match 4 winner (home), 8