Four local boys high school soccer teams reached the quarterfinals of their respective state tournaments last season.
This year, three of them will battle in the same sub-region.
As the season begins this week, teams that enjoyed success in 2012 will hope to build on it this year. Those whose seasons ended before the state tournament will try to capture some of the magic out of their grasp, and every local team but Christian Heritage will compete in a league that includes another area school.
Dalton, Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield — all state quarterfinalists a year ago — are in Sub-region 7B-4A this season. North Murray, which reached the Class 2A state quarterfinals, is in Region 5-3A with Coahulla Creek.
Murray County drops down to Class 2A after having a winning record last year while competing in the same region as Dalton and Southeast, and Morris Innovative will be with Murray County in Region 7-2A after playing its inaugural season in Class A. Christian Heritage, which makes the jump to Georgia High School Association competition after playing previously in Georgia Independent School Association, is the only local squad in Class A.
As the Lions begin GHSA competition, they’ll bring an old hand into the new league.
John Seehorn, who led the Lions for 11 years but resigned after the 2011 season, returns as head coach this year.
“I had missed it and decided to coach again,” Seehorn said. “We’ve been on the ball for a couple of weeks, and we have had a great time. We don’t have all of the team out yet with four or five who are still playing basketball. We are just trying to work with the kids we have now and are getting a chance to work with a lot of the younger kids.”
The Lions will have plenty of experience back, including sweeper Phillip Jackson, whom Seehorn calls his leader, and fellow senior Joseph Cancelleri. Cancelleri started as a defender as a sophomore, but he missed all of last year because of a preseason knee injury. Now that he’s at full speed, Seehorn said the big question is where to play him.
“He really has a lot of potential all over the field,” Seehorn said. “He would be one of my best defensive players, but he could potentially help us up front or in the middle.”
Junior Hutch Crawford, who has started on the team since he was an eighth-grader, returns up front, while classmate Andrew McEntyre is back at goalie. They will be joined by junior midfielder Hunter Dixon. The 6-foot-5-inch McEntyre is an imposing presence as the last line of defense.
“Andrew started last year, and I really expect him to have a great year,” Seehorn said. “He has matured and grown since last year, and he is getting a lot more forceful and starting to take a bigger role as a leader. He has worked in the offseason, and he has a natural ability you can’t teach.”
Now, it is time to play up to another level of competition.
“Playing in the GHSA will be awfully different than playing in the GISA,” Seehorn said. “We play Darlington and North Cobb Christian, who have great programs and have for years. We played North Cobb in the GISA final four in 2006, and they were the team that put us out.”
Christian Heritage opens the season March 2 at The Walker School.
While their county brethren at Northwest and Southeast enjoyed a state tournament trip last year, the Colts were a win short of making the Class 2A field. This year, Coahulla Creek is a more mature version of itself, returning 11 players from a team that finished its first season 9-6 but needed one more victory in the region tournament to advance to state.
Adding to that experience, first-year coach Eric Parker will add eight freshmen from what he calls a “very solid group” from North Whitfield Middle.
“We are already showing a lot of growth from last year’s team,” said Parker, who was an assistant coach last year. “They have been playing in the offseason and the growth has been good to see and something we needed. We have toughened up enough to be able to handle a deficit and not just fold.”
Luis Lee Martinez is the only senior on the team, and he will start at midfielder. Other experience returns via forward Pedro Garcia — who was selected to The Daily Citizen’s 2012 All-Area Boys Soccer Team — and goalkeeper Missa Frairé. Garcia led the team in scoring with 19 goals, and he will be joined up front by freshman Eddie Serrato.
The Colts will move up to Class 3A this season, but Parker said his team is looking forward to the challenge.
“I am feeling pretty good about the region,” Parker said. “North Murray and Gordon Central will be good opponents, and Cartersville is a very solid team. Our region will be pretty tough, and I am hoping we can play solid ball and come out with some victories and surprise some people. If we can survive in this region and make the playoffs, we could make some people notice at state.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge is within the program and not on the team. Parker will be the head coach for both the Colts and Lady Colts this season, although he will be assisted by community coach Shannon Coley, who returns for a second season.
“You are having to find time for both teams, and that has been the biggest challenge,” Parker said. “We ask a lot of the players, and that is one of those things where you have to watch how far you push them. It is finding that comfortable level for both teams that we are looking for.”
Coahulla Creek opens the season by hosting Northwest on Friday.
After reaching the Class 3A quarterfinals last season, coach Matt Cheaves and his players aren’t changing their ultimate goal.
The Catamounts want to win a state championship.
“That’s where we always set the bar,” said Cheaves, whose team shared the Class 4A title with Heritage-Rockdale in 2003. “It’s like a target. You’re always going to shoot for the bull’s-eye. In any season, our expectations are always high. And we’re optimistic.”
Dalton returns eight starters from last season — striker Ramiro Huitanda, outside midfielders Ryan Czyz and Daniel Palacios, center midfielder Eder Mora, goalkeeper Raymundo Bahena and defenders Salvador Rodriguez, Edgar Hernandez and Jose Gardea.
During his junior season a year ago, Huitanda had 35 goals as he broke the Cats’ single-season scoring record and was named The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Boys Soccer Player of the Year. He’s part of the reason Dalton is ranked No. 1 in the preseason Ga.PrepCountry.com Class 4A coaches poll.
“We’re going to miss the guys from last season,” Cheaves said, “but it is good to have a lot of guys coming back.”
Sticking with a 4-4-2 attack on the field, Dalton will benefit from having three of its four defenders back along with the goalkeeper.
“It’s definitely an advantage,” Cheaves said. “The players know what to expect from me and from one another.”
In Sub-region 7B-4A, Dalton will compete with Northwest and Southeast, two other programs which reached the quarterfinals last year in their respective classes. The Cats also will face Heritage-Catoosa, LaFayette and Ridgeland.
The Cats, who went 16-4 last season, open their schedule Tuesday with a home game against North Murray.
The Tigers returns six starters from last season, including three defenders, while midfielders Luis Perez and Adrian Love return at the center of the team’s complex — and rare — 4-2-3-1 formation.
“It really highlights Eduardo Padilla,” Morris Innovative coach Ernie Dempsey said. “The reason we have him there is because he understands distribution and basically all plays go to him.”
Padilla played goalkeeper last season but is switching to a center defensive midfield position make the most of his skills at the formation’s most important spot. Despite being in a primarily defensive spot, he is responsible for starting the offense and making the correct decisions in getting the ball up field.
“It’s a tough call because (first) he has all the tools to be a great goalie,” Dempsey said. “He’s a tall kid and is in really great shape. And he’s super fearless. But we have a need at that center mid position to have people distribute the ball and move it from the back to the front.”
Defenders Pedro Ulloa, Miguel Villafuerte and Juan Adame return most of Morris Innovative’s defense. Sophomore Danny Alonzo is slotted as the Tigers’ new goalkeeper.
“It’s super crucial to have reliable defenders, because everything starts with them,” Dempsey said. “If you take the ball away, your possession starts with the defense.”
In the nine-team region, Morris Innovative will play each team twice, meaning 16 of its 17 regular season games will affect league standings. It starts Monday when the Tigers, who won just one game last year — the finale — open their season at home versus Pepperell.
The Indians were 6-5 last season in Class 3A, but coach Marco Burgueno is looking forward to a move down in classification.
“I think that we should do well in the new region,” he said. “Compared to the teams we were playing last year, we are playing teams that are more our size. We did pretty well last year, even though we were playing some very tough competition.”
Burgueno said his team brings a mix of experience and youthful talent to its new league alignment, with that group led by goalkeeper Humberto Alvarez. A starter for the third straight year, he is one of five seniors on the roster, and Burgueno said it is clear who is in charge in the back of the Indians’ defense.
“He has been there and he has experience, and he is a vocal leader on the team,” Burgueno said. “He is in command back there.”
Fellow seniors Manny Bautista (midfield/defense), Alberto Soto (forward) and Miguel Andrade (defender) round out the senior class.
“We will have some younger players, but I am encouraged by what I have seen so far,” Burgueno said.
Junior midfielder Jose Ruiz will control the center, while sophomore Juan Bautista will join Soto up front.
“Forward is where we have some inexperience,” Burgueno said. “I am excited about them, but we haven’t played a game yet. We have to see how they respond in a game.”
The Indians open the season on Monday versus Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe.
After winning a region title in Class 2A last year, it’s not unreasonable to expect the Mountaineers to be near the top in Region 5-3A this season.
That is exactly where coach Matt Chambers expect his team to be.
“We lost a couple of key players and still have a few star players from last year,” Chambers said. “We are expecting to have a region title. They are playing with that confidence and aren’t holding back. They have practiced really well.
“In our new region, a lot of the teams that moved up with us we are familiar with, and the other half we are confident we will be able to compete well against them.”
Seniors dot the roster for the Mountaineers, and even the underclassmen have a lot of playing experience either on the varsity level or through year-round competition.
Seniors Ismael Cruz (midfielder), Freddie Urbina (forward), Tony Maldonado (forward), Dylan Duffy (defender) and Humberto Roseco (center back) will serve as the anchor of the team. Urbina’s 25 goals in 2012 set the school’s single-season scoring record, and he tacked on 12 assists
With Roseco, Chambers said he had a “beast who anchors the defense.”
In goal, Manuel Gonzalez was stellar last year as a sophomore and Chambers said the rest of his underclassmen have been impressive as well.
“We have a whole bunch of young players who are ready to step up and getting better each practice,” Chambers said.
North Murray opens the season Tuesday at Dalton.
The Bruins had a groundbreaking season in 2012, reaching the state quarterfinals for the first time.
Now they hope to continue building an area soccer powerhouse.
Northwest graduated four starters — notably midfielders Mario Perez, Jose Delcid and Emannuel Pacheco — but seven returning starters and strong front and back lines will help coach Ryan Scoggins’ squad.
“It’s nice to have guys back,” Scoggins said. “They’ve had the experience now. You hope that translates into confidence for our team.”
Sticking with a 4-4-2 formation for now — but with the possibility of switching to a 4-3-3 to make the most of the team’s goal-scoring potential — Northwest returns All-Area selection Giovanni Aguero, who broke the school’s single-season scoring record with 20 goals last year. Sweeper Miguel Villa also made the all-area lineup and returns, with Adrian Rodriguez another returning defender and Miguel Deanda returning in goal.
“We’re building our style to have (the defenders) make quick passes and get it to the guys up top,” Scoggins said.
Christian Perez, no relation to Mario, returns at the other center midfield spot. Bryan Villa, Miguel’s brother, will handle the right midfield spot. David Perez, who had 16 goals last year, returns at the other striker spot alongside Aguero.
“Those midfielders kind of have that freedom,” Scoggins said. “I don’t try to structure, especially with center mids. Their job is to communicate and find open space. That’s the beauty of soccer, is there’s not many tactical secrets.”
Northwest, which went 14-6 last year, opens the season Friday at Coahulla Creek.
Raiders coach Kevin Kettenring called it “devastating.”
A 1-0 loss in the Class 3A quarterfinals to St. Pius X. For seniors Edgar Rodriguez, Edger Cruz and Christian Lopez, that was it.
For the eight players who are seniors this season, there is only one way to right the wrong.
It’s a “loaded” Raiders squad hoping to build off last season’s success with three extra wins. Kettenring said “there is nothing less” the team wants than to win a state title.
“We’ve been playing second fiddle since I came in in 2008,” said Kettenring, who was an assistant last season — he has been and will continue to be the girls soccer coach as well — but takes over head coaching duties after Jamison Griffin left after the 2012 season.
The Raiders reached the Class 4A state title match in 2008, losing to Lakeside-DeKalb in a penalty-kick shootout, and have made the state quarterfinals three times in the four seasons since then. Kettenring wants a year more like 2008, but wouldn’t mind going a step further and winning it all, too.
“That’s where we are aiming,” Kettenring said. “We’re going to be disappointed if it’s anything less than that.”
Southeast has eight seniors — midfielders Marcus Arrendondo and Jorge Hurtado, hybrids Alex Rosillo, Luis Sanchez and Byron Miranda, strikers Eric Salaises and Josue Quintero and defender Isael Gutierrez. Junior goalkeeper Abel Mendiola earned all-area honors a year ago.
“Eventually, you’ll see a lineup with eight seniors in it,” Kettenring said. “At one point or the other, there’s probably four on the bench that had starting experience last year.
“We’re loaded. Maybe I shouldn’t say loaded because injuries can happen and can turn things around in a heartbeat. But we seem to have that good group of guys and will keep it going.”
He stressed the program “can’t go backwards,” especially after a disappointing end to a 2012 season that saw Southeast win the Region 7 championship and beat Dalton twice. The quarterfinals defeat was the only one for a team that finished 16-1-2 overall.
“It was pretty devastating to lose to (St. Pius X) on a PK at home, a questionable PK at that,” Kettenring said. “It was tough. ... You pick yourself up, and believe it or not two of those (graduates) have been back to check up on the team.”
— Sports writers Devin Golden and Chris Whitfield compiled this report.
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