Soccer previews: Spartans plugging in new pieces, but hopes remain high

March 17, 2014

By Neil Pierson

It might not be realistic for the Skyline High School boys soccer team to repeat its success of 2013, when the program went undefeated in conference play for the first time.

After all, the Spartans will have to find replacements for several key seniors who graduated, including starting center backs Ryan Shim and Chris Sorenson, and all-state central midfielder Kaleb Strawn.

Head coach Don Braman acknowledges the challenge of finding new stars, but thinks the pieces are in place for similar levels of success.

“There’s a lot of work to do in terms of being able to understand how to play together,” Braman said, “and that’s where we’re going to be putting our energy, but we’re in a good place to get rolling.”

A new winning formula starts between the goalposts, where the Spartans lost Ben Morgan and Zachary Anselmi, who combined for six shutouts last season. Senior Jack O’Keefe, junior Bryce Escobar and sophomore Alex Appel are competing for the starting goalkeeper assignment.

In front of them, senior Jake Therrien is the only returning defender with varsity experience. But newcomers Nick Christoforou, Fed Rubiolo and Nick Morgan appear to be capable, Therrien said.

“Our back line is pretty good-sized guys, so we’re not worried about that,” Therrien said.

The top returning scorer is senior Jason Twaddle (seven goals, three assists), who expects to once again provide hold-up play and distribute the ball to other attackers.

“As long as we work together, we’ll be able to score – not just me but others,” Twaddle said.

Braman is looking to newcomer Nihar Baxi, a senior, to provide goals, and the midfield also has several threats, including senior Armeen Badri.

Badri, Twaddle and Therrien play year-round with an Eastside FC select squad, and having experience playing with and against each other in club soccer should help the Spartans.

“A lot of our seniors graduated,” Badri noted, “but one good thing was we had a lot of sophomores and juniors starting last year, so a lot of those starting spots are still the same guys playing.”

Eastlake’s speed, versatility could stymie opponents

Longtime Eastlake head coach Adam Gervis is tight-lipped about the roles for his players heading into the new season. Of the 17 boys on the roster, most can play anywhere he needs them to.

The Wolves have only three players returning from last year’s lineup that finished 6-6-3 overall and missed the KingCo playoffs. That trio – senior defender Caleb Olson, junior defender Zach Howard and junior goalkeeper Jack Hornsby – will have big roles to play, but they figure to get help from a completely overhauled roster.

“Last year we kind of had one big, standout player, Madison Heck,” Olson explained. “This year, I think we’re going to be able to work together a lot better because we don’t have one person we’re always looking to get it to.”

Eastlake’s defensive group also includes Cameron Lerner, Robert Franklin and Kris Rudella. The midfield is young and features four sophomores along with juniors Justin Johnson, Nicholas Ruppe and Diego Lopez.

Up front, Olson said he likes what he sees from junior Connor Finley and senior Kekoa Knief. Scott Quinn and Omar Luqman, a pair of seniors, could also factor into the forward rotation.

There’s a great deal of speed on the roster, Gervis said, and Eastlake could parlay that into dangerous counterattacks if they’re able to keep opponents off the scoreboard.

Olson indicated Hornsby’s leadership could be huge for the team as a whole.

“He really kind of commands the field, and he’ll let us know if we should drop it back to him,” Olson said. “You’ll get some goalies who don’t have good foot skills, so they’ll be afraid to get it back to them under pressure. But Jack handles the pressure and he can play it out of the back.”

The Wolves won the 4A state title three years ago, and that fact alone means the program expects to win year after year, even in a conference as strong as KingCo.

“We use the state team still as motivation,” Olson said, “but there’s no one left from that team who still plays here, so it’s kind of just a legacy that we hear stories about. But it’s something we’re trying to do again.”

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