Coach Latta brings fresh attitude to GJ soccer team
Grand Junction High School soccer coach Stephen Latta knew defense was going to have to be a priority in his first year.
Latta’s approach was to have the Tigers’ strength be in the backline, and work its way to the frontline.
“I’m always of the opinion that any type of attack should start from the defense,” Latta said. “I wanted to make sure we were a strong defensive-minded team.”
So far in 2009, the Tigers have been just that. Grand Junction has posted as many shutouts as it had in 2008 (5), and is 6-1 overall with a 4-0 record in the Southwestern League heading into today’s game against Montrose.
The Tigers’ defense has been stifling, led by defenders Adam Pacheco, Matt Leach, Talon Bates and Bryan Waite. The four players have helped keep pressure off goalkeeper Caleb Ealey, resulting in Grand Junction allowing only two goals this season.
“I think the communication has been really good,” Latta said. “They are not shy about communicating with each other, and with any team and any back four they will get on each other, but I encourage them to stay positive. I remind them that if they don’t do it together then the rest of the team definitely won’t do it together.”
For the Tigers, it’s been a team effort, as the defense has put up four straight shutouts. Grand Junction’s offense has managed 15 goals during that period. The streak has included a 1-0 win over Durango, which was the first time the Tigers defeated the Demons since 2006.
Ealey, a senior, said the Tigers’ strong play has a lot to do with Latta’s demeanor, whether that’s during a game or in practice.
“Coach is working with us really well, and he doesn’t put up with any nonsense,” Ealey said.
“Once we step onto the field, it’s 100 percent serious, and I think that’s been a big part of our success.”
Although Latta’s been a breath of fresh air for the program, the young coach said the team put in the work early on. During the summer workouts, Latta said it was the defenders who were the most dedicated players.
“When I took over during the summer session, the back four were some of our most committed players,” Latta said. “I was able to see what they were capable of, and they were excited to work together.”
Grand Junction will have its biggest test of the season today against Montrose at Canyon View Park. The Indians won the SWL last season, and are off to a hot start again. Montrose is 4-0 in league, coming off of a 2-1 loss to 3A power Battle Mountain.
“(Today’s) game is huge not only because we are playing another team who is undefeated in the SWL,” Latta said. “I told these boys it’s their choice to be head and shoulders above the rest after this game, or be thrown into the mix with wins and losses.”
After the Montrose game, Grand Junction begins its second round of facing SWL teams.
Regardless, Ealey looks at today’s game as the most important of the season.
“In my eyes this is our most important game because it determines whether or not we win the SWL,” Ealey said. “Montrose is the team to beat.”