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Worthington soccer programs ready for new season

Jordan Willi/Daily Globe Worthington soccer player Ivan Vargas (orange jersey) plays the ball out of the air in front of Roque Soto (white jersey), while Victor Meza (blue shirt) looks on.1 / 8
Jordan Willi/Daily Globe Worthington goaltender Kody Honius makes a save during practice with the boys varsity team Friday at the Worthington High School.2 / 8
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Jordan Willi/Daily Globe Worthington goaltender Jorge Fuentes (left) chases after a loose ball while Kevin Sanchez (middle) and David Santos charge in to make a play during practice Friday at Worthington High School.4 / 8
Jordan Willi/Daily Globe Worthington soccer player Randy Lopez (left) tries to keep up with the streaking Josh Kleve during practice Friday at Worthington High School.5 / 8
Jordan Willi/Daily Globe Worthington girls' soccer player Marina Guzman (left) runs past teammate Monica Duron (right) while Johana Flores (back) looks on during practice Monday at Worthington High School.6 / 8
Jordan Willi/Daily Globe Worthington soccer player Carrie Lovan (left) chases after Jessica Alvarez (right) while McKayla Gravenhof (back) comes in to support her teammate during practice Monday at Worthington High School.7 / 8
Jordan Willi/Daily Globe Worthington girls' soccer player Achan Alwal (right) and teammate Carriw Lovan (left) battle for possession a soccer ball while Tania Flores looks on during practice Monday at Worthington High School.8 / 8

WORTHINGTON -- With one more season of experience under their belts, the Worthington Trojans' boys soccer team feels that this could be the year they make a splash in the South Central Conference and come away with more wins in close games.

"I feel like we are a better team than last year and we can finish out those one-goal games," junior Andrew Johnson said. "Having more experience and getting to play together more this summer are a few of the reasons I think we will be a better team this year."

Last season, the Trojans finished 5-9-1 but lost six of those nine games by one goal. Worthington head coach Smitty Ektnitphong believes that his team's mix of youth and experience will hopefully allow the Trojans to win those close matches on a more consistent basis.

"Our senior core this year is going to be something to watch," Ektnitphong said. "Last year, we started off really good, but then ran into a little bit of trouble in the middle of the season. But overall, performance-wise for this group of seniors, I really like what they have shown me so far."

Ektnitphong was also pleased to see the number of returning players who came to the first day of practice in good shape to start the season. But he feels that the team has a way to go before they are back in peak soccer form.

"Right now we are really just trying to get everyone back into condition and soccer form," Smitty Ektnitphong said. "A lot of the kids reported into practice in pretty good shape. That is very encouraging to me. We probably have a couple more weeks before everyone is truly back in soccer form, but they have been working really hard on it and we have been seeing them come out and work really hard for us."

Among the returning players the Trojans will see are Johnson, fellow midfielder and senior Victor Meza, along with goalie Kody Honius. Worthington only lost two players from last year's squad, meaning a majority of the 2012 team is still intact.

"Having so many guys coming back from last year's team will make a big difference for us," Meza said. "It means that everyone who has been out there before knows what they are doing and it helps out the younger guys coming up, too, because they can learn from the older guys who have been there before."

Despite being loaded with talent in their junior and senior classes, Ektnitphong believes that there are a few underclassmen who could crack the varsity roster.

"Some of the young kids coming up are making big strides this year, including Ivan Rodriguez, who is a ninth grader this year," Ektnitphong said. "He played on a good middle school team last year and on the undefeated U14 team this last summer. He came into practices this year very determined to compete with all these big guys. He still has a lot to work on, but you can see the potential in him and the fire in him."

Worthington returns four midfielders this season, including Johnson, Meza and juniors Roque Soto and Angel Sanchez. With so many experienced players at the position, Johnson feels confident that the Trojans will be able to control the middle of the field pretty well.

"Controlling the midfield will be big for us this season since that is where the core of our team is," Johnson said. "The midfielders can come back to the goal to help and go up the field to help on offense as well."

For the Trojans to find success this season, they will need to be as prepared as possible for every game and make sure they are taking full advantage of every minute they get during practice.

"I think how well prepared we go into the season will determine how well we do this year," Meza said. "How we practice and how well we communicate will also determine what we can do as a team this year."

Trojan girls in rebuilding mode

The Worthington Trojans girls' soccer team returns just two players from last year's 2-11-1 squad, but head coach Emily Ahlquist still feels confident in the team she'll be putting on the field for Saturday's season opener on the road against Austin.

"I picked the varsity players this year based on the specific skills and what they can bring to the team," Ahlquist said. "I kind of have an idea of a position of all of them, so I think if we focus on developing each one of their individual skills I think we will blend really well together."

After losing most of the team to graduation last season, it wouldn't be much of a reach to say that the Trojans are in rebuilding mode. However, youth isn't always a bad thing, especially down the road when all those young players become seniors in a few years.

"Obviously, we have a very young team, which is maybe going to make things challenging this year," Ahlquist said. "But further down the road, having so many young players will be a good problem to have, because it means they can grow together as a team."

Ahlquist and the rest of the team will lean heavily on junior returnees Carrie Lovan and Achan Alwal.

"We are going to have to teach the other girls how to play at the varsity level," Lovan said. "And with all the seniors graduating last year, everyone will be expecting (me and Achan) to help out more with everything."

Even though the Trojans will look to Lovan and Alwal for guidance both on and off the field, Ahlquist feels there are a few younger players who could make a big impact this season.

"I'm really looking at McKayla Gravenhof (10th grader) to be one of our promising young players," Ahlquist said. "She has a lot of skills we are looking for on this young team. We also have Monica Duron, and she is someone I am going to be leaning on as a forward this year.

"She has typically played defense, but I have my defense covered already and she has the skills of a forward as well as a defenseman. So I'm moving her up to forward because she has some really good cutting skills and she has a good leg."

The newcomers to the 2013 squad have been improving on a daily basis.

"The younger kids are picking up everything pretty quick," Alwal said. "I think that we will improve a lot from this year to next year. We will learn to work together and start to click as a team."

Already knowing where every player on the varsity team will be playing this season, Ahlquist feels that the Trojans won't have any glaring holes on offense or defense.

"I think it will be more of a work in progress for us," Ahlquist said. "I don't think necessarily that one position is solid, but I don't think we are weak at any position, either. So I think it will just be developing everyone and see where it goes."

Worthington hits the road for its first two games of the season and will need to use its solid defense to keep themselves in games.

"I think our defense will be strong this year, especially our midfield," Alwal said. "And that is because the girls we have at those position have played that position before so they know what to do."

"I feel like we can be a good team if we work together and start getting to know each other more," Lovan said. "Even though we are young, I think we can still have a good season."