WORTHINGTON -- The optimism is high for the Worthington boys and girls soccer teams this year.
The boys were hit hard by graduation but are looking for the younger players to step into larger roles this season. On the girls side, head coach Emily Ahlquist likes what she sees out of her team in the early going.
“We’ve had an awesome group of girls show up to practice so far,” Ahlquist said. “I honestly think this is the strongest we’ve looked going into a season in all the years that I have coached.”
Graduation took a toll on the Worthington boys soccer team.
Following a second consecutive state tournament appearance, the Trojans lost 16 seniors to graduation. But head coach Juan Flores is expecting his young players to fill the void.
“I think with the kids we have, we have some talent,” Flores said. “We’re young, but we think we can build a very competitive team. Like I’ve told everyone who has asked me, ‘How’s the team look this year, are you guys going to be any good?’ I said we’re going to be really competitive. We have a lot of young kids that are good and I think our speed is going to be one of the keys to our game. That’s going to be one of our advantages.”
Two big holes that will need to be filled are on opposite ends of the field. Gone is Chris Cerda, who anchored the defense. Flores looks to Jesus Lozano to help fill that void. Gone is Jon Keodouangsy, a prolific scorer who left WHS as one of the best players in program history. To make up for his production, Flores said it will take a team effort, but looks to players like Eric Knuckles and Guadalupe Padilla to be factors offensively.
“We’re definitely going to have to try to have either two forwards or one forward and two center-attacking mids to try to replace Jon,” the coach said. “He was a machine himself, he is a really good player. It’s hard to get another Jon, they come once every 100 years. All we can do is practice and get them to be the best attackers they can be and the best scorers they can be.”
The Trojans return a handful of seniors and a small group of letterwinners as well. But Flores knows with the schedule that awaits WHS this season, it’s going to be a battle every night.
“It’s definitely not going to be easy,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of adversity. Going into this year, I think we’re the underdog. I like that because last year we were the team to beat and everybody wanted to beat us and everybody played the best soccer against us... Hopefully we have the right mentality to go out there and play good games and be competitive. I like the underdog story. Who doesn’t?”
When the WHS girls team showed up this year, it was evident to Ahlquist her team had put in work during the offseason.
“We have been talking to them for the past three or four years and really pushing them to play soccer in the offseason,” she said. “We started a program through the YMCA in the winter and they have a summer option. They have enough to put a team together in the summer and we’re seeing the benefits of both of those things.”
Because of that work, Ahlquist said the team is much farther along than in years past.
“We used to have two months of soccer and they didn’t touch a soccer ball for 10 months,” she said. “Then they’d come back and you have to take so much time to get back up to the level that you ended at. But that time, it’s almost the end of the season. It’s really exciting to see them coming in not having fallen back in skills.”
In the past few years, the Trojans have struggled to score goals. However, with returning scorers and young players stepping up, the goals should come this season, Ahlquist said.
“We have a promising forward coming up that scored a lot in JV last year and I have both of my forwards returning,” she said. “I’m hoping that we’ll be seeing some more goals this year.”
The coach is looking for Shaelly Zuniga to have a bigger role this year, while Ariel Reveles, Marilyn Orellana and Saleen Thepmontry return at forward.
Defensively, WHS returns a solid core, but will be playing in front of a new goalie in net.
“We have some good defenders returning, which is exciting,” Ahlquist said. “Then we also have some good defenders coming up from JV as well. I think our defense is going to look pretty solid. Which is good because we don’t have a goalie returning.”
But coming off a season where WHS won twice, had two ties and lost in a shootout in the playoffs, the Trojans have a bit of momentum heading into the season.
“I think they definitely have a better attitude going into the season knowing that we won some last year,” Ahlquist said. “That’s definitely helpful. We know that it’s not going to be easy for us, it’s going to be hard. Our goal is to be more competitive in every game.”