As the top-ranked team in the eurosportscoreboard.com Class 4A poll for most of last season, the Cats were in everyone’s sights.
After going 22-0 and cruising to the state title — they outscored opponents 134-8 for the season, winning every match but one by at least two goals — that target on their backs probably isn’t going anywhere.
Dalton lost 10 seniors, including Ramiro Huitanda, the program’s all-time leading goal scorer and The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Boys Soccer Player of the Year each of the past two seasons.
The Cats will rely on junior Eder Mora, a center midfielder who was The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Football Player of the Year in 2013, and their senior experience is on defense. Pepe Gardea, the team’s stopper, sweeper Salvador Rodriguez and right back Edgar Hernandez will try to provide the same shutdown performance the Cats gave a year ago. They’ll be in front of a new goalkeeper, sophomore Samuel Fraire, after losing Raymundo Bahena to graduation.
“We have a lot of depth,” Dalton coach Matt Cheaves said. “Going into a season, defense is a priority first.”
As for the Lady Cats, despite an abundance of youth and multiple injuries, they nearly made the state tournament in 2013, so with experience returning, coach Tony Carlson is excited about this season.
“I’m looking at a good stack of juniors, one returning senior and a new senior,” he said.
Nallely Carrizales and Rocio Carrizales are the two seniors and both are midfielders. Julia Ortiz and Claudia Rodriguez are junior defenders. Liz Cloud and Alondra Salaises are junior strikers. Alex Brumblelow, a sophomore, returns at goalie.
Carlson believes the Lady Cats should be able to compete with Heritage-Catoosa, last year’s Sub-region 7B-4A champion, and other region contenders. He points to the team’s performance in the region tournament against River Ridge, an eventual Class 4A state quarterfinalist.
“Despite all the injuries we went through, our girls battled hard last year to finish fourth in the sub-region and played River Ridge,” Carlson said. “When they played River Ridge to a 6-5 game in overtime, you could see it clicked for them they could play a game to that level and were capable of playing with a team like River Ridge.”
The girls begin their season at 5 p.m. Tuesday against Ringgold at Harmon Field. The boys travel to Ridgeland at 5 p.m. Thursday for their season opener.