A new season, a new team | VailDaily.com

A new season, a new team

Preston Utley/Vail DailyEagle Valley High School soccer player huddle around their coach as he instructs them on the next drill

GYPSUM – There is not too much the Devils want to remember about last season.The team had lots of trouble, and not just winning games. Forget the terrible record. Forget the near absence of teamwork.”We haven’t had teamwork in two years. People have just done whatever they wanted,” said senior Coe Roberts.This year is going to be different, though.”We had some issues last year, and we’ve gotten rid of them. Now, we’re looking for a new start,” said head coach Chad Sloniker. “We are a completely new team this year. Our Hispanic population (on the team) increased by 400 percent.”There are plenty of new faces on the field, and not just freshmen.”If you look at the players that are out here this year, they went to school here last year and didn’t play on our team because they didn’t want to be part of it,” Sloniker said. “Now, we are able to have them as part of the team.”Last year, Eagle Valley had a hard time fielding a JV team, but this year, the Devils have 35 kids out for the team already with more signing up every day. And there’s a new head coach.After joining the team as an assistant coach last year, Chad Sloniker takes over as head coach this year. Brian Large, last year’s head coach, will serve as the assistant coach.

Practice may have started a few days ago, but Sloniker has been involved with the players since the end of last season. “I started recruiting heavily last winter,” Sloniker said. “I was on them about their grades all spring, making sure they were eligible to play.” For the six seniors and two juniors that were on the team last year, there is a tangible change.”Coach has been working us really hard in practice,” Wes Minett said. “I think I’m in a lot better shape now than I was last year.”Two new seniors join the team after switching over from other sports. Many Devils think that both John Gabriel, who played football, and David Earle, who played golf, will be great additions.”I’m excited we’ve got these new guys,” Roberts said.Even with the loss of 10 seniors, there is a solid contingent of players from last year who experienced the team’s jump up to 4A slope.Around the fieldThe Devils bring a new look to their game plan this year.

“We’re going to be flexible. Last year, we were more rigid, not only in our formations, but in where people were playing,” Sloniker said. “This year, we’ll set it up depending on how the other team is playing.”Jordan Meikle’s departure leaves a gap on defense, but the Devils have two returning defenders who can fill the void. Roberts will lead the defense at sweeper, and fellow senior Jake Brock should make a strong contribution.”Coe has played really well. He’s our best defender this year, head and shoulders,” Sloniker said.Up front, Sloniker is counting on Minett to score a fair share of the goals.”We’re going to have to move up the field as a team and support a lot more,” Minett said.Other promising forwards include freshman Caesar Castillo and Gabriel. New faces on offense will be accompanied by a new offensive strategy.”Last year, it was kick and run,” Sloniker said. “This year, we are going to start with the basics and teach some skills. We want to force defenders to play us.”And there is the question of who will stop the ball.”We are struggling a bit on goaltending because we lost Ross Herr,” Sloniker said.

There may not be a clear successor to Herr, but there are three good candidates. Sean Minett and Trevor Greyson, both freshmen, will compete with Mauricio Lagos for time between the pipes. Lagos normally plays center midfield but has impressed Sloniker as a goalkeeper.With the number of new players, it is tough to say who all the starters will be. Returning players like Kyle Simonett, Jaime Fernandez, Carlos Viniegra and Matt Barker should see playing time, as well as some freshmen. The captains for this year are Roberts, Lagos, Wes Minett and Fernandez.The big pictureSloniker wants to do better than last year record-wise but stresses other issues.”My goal is to make these guys young men, and if soccer comes along, then I’m happy with that,” Sloniker said. “I’m a firm believer if we get them treating each other like family, then they’ll see that soccer will follow.”Also, he wants the kids to enjoy the game.”Last year, they didn’t have fun,” Sloniker said. “This year they are having a lot more fun. You can see it in their attitudes. We are starting to blend the cultures together a lot better.”Sports writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or icropp@vaildaily.com.VAil Colorado

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