Del Norte's returners and newcomers are talented; how well can they mesh?
One day, the passing would be errant. Another, the back line would be shaky. Another, the forwards would be unable to break through the defense of the opposition.
No single problem ailed the Del Norte High boys soccer team last season. Inconsistent play plagued the Warriors en route to a 5-6-1 overall record (1-6-1 Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 League).
Despite losing 13 members of the 2012 team to graduation, the Del Norte players and coaches are optimistic about their chances in 2013. As long as everyone stays on the same page, the thinking goes, the Warriors can improve upon the season before.
"Overall, it's a good unit," Warriors head coach David Sanyaolu said. "The basic soccer skills are there and there are a lot of things we can work on."
Del Norte's season begins in earnest today, as both the girls and boys soccer teams travel to Cave Junction to face Illinois Valley. The girls' game begins at 3:30 p.m., with the boys game to follow at 5:30 p.m.
The first home game of the season for the Warriors is scheduled to begin Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. against Ferndale High, though it was unknown at press time if Ferndale was able to field a full squad for the game. The Del Norte girls' game against the Wildcats is expected to be played as scheduled at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at Del Norte High School.
The Warriors took part in an exhibition tournament in McKinleyville on Saturday, playing against other Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 League schools. (Results from the tournament were unavailable at press time.)
Del Norte's starting lineup remains "a work in progress," according to Sanyaolu, but some veteran players have spots locked down.
The strength of the Warriors lies in the attacking positions. Seniors Jesus "Chito" Herrera and Juan Alvarado, two of the Warriors' best offensive players in 2012, return as scoring threats at the forward positions.
"Me and him play together well," Herrera said.
Herrera has been a mainstay for the varsity team since his sophomore season and is arguably the best player at controlling the ball in space. Sanyaolu and assistant coach Donald Bloyd have attempted to rein in Herrera's tendency to freelance if the Warriors struggle to move the ball.
"I need to show my game, be a good player, give good passes," Herrera said. "I trust my team. We have a good starting team. They know what I can do with the ball."
Unlike in previous seasons, Sanyaolu and Bloyd put the team through two weeks of double-day practices with intensive focus on passing and movement.
"If David sees something wrong, he stops everything and corrects us," Herrera said. "David has been working hard. He pushes us."
Sanyaolu and the players separately have acknowledged the need for all Del Norte players to be on the same page, an element missing at times last season.
"Last year, we'd all hang out in different halls, do different stuff," senior midfielder Niano Santos said. "Building chemistry is important."
Double days also addressed another problem the Warriors struggled to overcome last season: Conditioning. Each practice began with laps around the grass soccer field abutting Harding Avenue, where the Del Norte girls practice.
"When I first started, I jogged (around the field). I couldn't breathe," Santos said. "Now I can do four of them. I still breathe fine."
Behind the veteran front line are question marks. Both starting defenders in Sanyaolu's 4-4-2 scheme must be replaced; thus far, sophomore Michael Marcinek and junior Alberto "Beto" Barraza have impressed in practice.
Del Norte must also replace both of the starting goalkeepers it used last season, Brandon Bloyd and Juan Chavez. (Chavez, a 2011 White Star at forward, switched to goalkeeper late in the 2012 season after suffering a knee injury.)
Sophomore Ernesto Ontiveros, who missed all of 2012 with an injury, has been learning the position in practice and figures to win the job. Behind him, depth is untested and unknown.
"We'll just have to make do with what we have," Sanyaolu said. "We just have to work with (Ernesto)."
Geovany Ramirez, Christian Marquez, Samuel Aragones, Francisco "Papas" Raya and Daniel Standring also return from the Warriors' 2012 squad. New to the team this season are Jhojan Gonzalez, Jorge Gonzalez, Jonathan Vargas, Barraza, Carlos Cordero-Martinez, Jeffrey Aguilar, Carlos Fuentes and Aldair Garcia.
"We should have a good team," Herrera said. "We just need to work as one. In order to have a good team, we have to trust one another."
Today, the trust-building process begins in earnest.
Reach Robert Husseman firstname.lastname@example.org .
BOYS SOCCER schedule
Sept. 3: at Illinois Valley, 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 4: Ferndale at home, 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 10: Illinois Valley at home, 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 11: at McKinleyville, TBD
Sept. 14: Eureka at home, 1 p.m.
Sept. 21: at South Fork, 1 p.m.
Sept. 23: Eagle Point at home, 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 25: at Fortuna, 7 p.m.
Sept. 28: Arcata at home, 1 p.m.
Oct. 2: at Ferndale, TBD
Oct. 5: McKinleyville at home, 1 p.m.
Oct. 9: at Eureka, 7 p.m.
Oct. 16: South Fork at home, 5:30 p.m.
Oct. 19: Fortuna at home, 1 p.m.
Oct. 23: at Arcata, 5:30 p.m.