Senior leadership key to Wildcats’ success

Noah Nelson is one of 12 seniors on the Fruita Monument roster, and the veteran presence has been key during the Wildcats’ 2013 season.


Fruita soccer seniors

■ Andrew Bryceland, midfielder — Battled back from a Grade 1 lateral collateral ligament tear to be one of the assists leaders for Wildcats with six assists. Also finished with seven goals, and had the team’s best shot/goal ratio of any attacking player with 3.3 shots per goal.

■ Chris Matlock, forward — Played in all 14 games for the Wildcats. Finished with one goal and two assists.

■ Cory Odom, defender — Finished with two goals and two assists, playing in all 14 games. One of four team captains. He took 20 shots, more than any other defender.

■ Devin Bird, forward — Fifth on the team with 14 points on five goals and four assists over 14 games with the Wildcats. One of five players on Fruita to average at least one point per game.

■ Dylan Hallett, midfielder — Played in 10 games this season, picking up two assists in the Wildcats’ 9-0 win over Montezuma-Cortez early in October.

■ Jordan Bird, defender — Led the team with 101 steals. Coach Dan McKee called Bird “scary” and “one of the best outside defenders to come through here in a long time.” Played in all 14 games.

■ Kyle Breeden, midfielder — Second on the team with 26 points. One of the assist leaders with six assists. McKee considers Breeden to be an emotional leader for the team, and someone who sets up runs and games during the offseason so the team will stay in shape.

■ Lukas Smith, defender — One of the Wildcats’ captains. Was first among defenders with four goals in 14 games. McKee said Smith sets up others with his on-field communication.

■ Noah Nelson, midfielder — Third on the team with eight goals. One of the Wildcats’ assist leaders with six assists and also a defensive captain. Played in 14 games.

■ Sean Koehler, defender — Played in 13 games and finished with two assists and 38 steals.

■ Tony Vasquez, defender — Finished with one goal and two assists on 19 shots. Played in 14 games for the Wildcats.

■ Wesley Padgett, forward — 2012 Southwestern League Player of the Year. Led the Wildcats with 20 goals, third in Class 5A. Played in 14 games.

Class 5A Boys soccer playoffs

No. 18 Arapahoe (8-5-1) vs. No. 15 Fruita monument (12-2-1)

First round, 4 p.m. Thursday, at Canyon View Park

Winner advances to play second-round match against No. 2 Rock Canyon (12-0-2) or
No. 31 Doherty (8-6-1).

The coaches

Arapahoe — Mark Hampshire. Fruita Monument — Dan McKee.

About Arapahoe

Leading scorers (regular-season statistics)

Cameron Unks, soph., midfielder — 4 goals, 7 games played.

Noah Graham, sr., defender/midfielder — 4 goals, 1 assist.

Mike Chism, jr., defender/midfielder — 3 goals, 3 assists.

Jack Ryan, sr., forward — 3 goals, 3 assists.


Dan Scott, sr. — 177 saves, 16 goals against, 1.12 goals-against average, 4 shutouts.


■ Arapahoe plays in the stacked Centennial League. Other teams in the Centennial League include No. 1 Smoky Hill, No. 5 Grandview and No. 6 Cherry Creek. Arapahoe finished 0-3 against those teams and lost by a collective score of 10-2.

■ The Warriors’ leading scorer, Cameron Unks, is a top player on the Colorado Rush U15 Nike Team.

About Fruita monument

Leading scorers (regular-season statistics)

Wesley Padgett, sr., forward — 20 goals, 5 assists.

Kyle Breeden, sr., midfielder — 10 goals, 6 assists.

Noah Nelson, sr., midfielder — 8 goals, 6 assists.

Andrew Bryceland, sr., midfielder ­­­— 7 goals, 6 assists.

Devin Bird, sr., forward — 5 goals, 4 assists.


Dominic Gaty, soph. — 39 saves, 16 goals against, 1.19 goals-against average, 9 shutouts.


■ Wesley Padgett’s’ 20 goals this season matches the season total for Arapahoe.

■ There are 12 seniors on the Wildcats’ roster, one of the largest on the Western Slope in recent years. McKee estimated that five or six of those seniors will play college soccer at various levels.

■ Fruita capped an undefeated league campaign with a Southwestern League championship after a scoreless draw against second-place Montrose, which is seeded 14th in the Class 4A playoffs.

The four senior defenders on the Fruita Monument boys soccer team — Lukas Smith, Cory Odom, Jordan Bird and Sean Kohler — move with a level of precision rare in high school soccer.

They’re very fluid, moving together as one unit instead of four, while still maintaining singular ball skills. Eager forwards have sped into the attacking third of the field only to throw their hands up in frustration when the linesman raises his flag to signal the attacker is offside.

It happens, game after game. Attackers stumped by a brutal Fruita defense.

“It’s really simple,” Odom said. “We know what to expect. We’ve been playing together for so long that we know exactly what each other is going to do.”

There was a stretch in which the Wildcats’ defense gave up two shots in three games, and they gave up a total of four goals in 10 Southwestern League matches. Fruita collected nine shutouts, tops in the SWL.

Wildcats coach Dan McKee said the collective leadership experience of having four seniors starting on defense has made producing a high-powered offense easier.

“I don’t remember which game it was, but there was a game where we drew a team offsides like 19 times,” McKee said. “We consistently reached double digits this season. That’s all on the leadership of those guys in the back. They’re able to work as a unit, and they’re good at knowing when to move guys up or back. They’ve been playing together so long, they just play really well together.

“It’s almost unheard of in this league, a unit like this. The back line is scary when they’re working together, and they’ve done really well for us this entire season.”

Thursday the veteran Wildcats, 12 seniors in all, face an Arapahoe team that is used to facing tough defenses. Fruita, seeded No. 15, will host the No.  18 Warriors at Canyon View Park at 4 p.m. Arapahoe finished in the middle of the Centennial League, the toughest league in Colorado. The Centennial League has the Nos. 1, 5, and 6 teams in the state tournament.

But the Wildcats are mentally prepared, McKee said.

“A lot of these guys played in our playoff game last year, and for some of them this is their third time in the playoffs,” McKee said. “It’s very much business as usual for us, and we’ve taken the stance that we’re going to come out and do what we do in the practices leading up to this game. We’re just preparing for Thursday and treating it like a regular-season game.”

From a player’s perspective, Smith said there’s the added incentive of playing with other seniors, many who have played together for the past eight years at various levels. 

“I think there is a little bit of sadness in knowing that we’re playing our last few games as a team,” Smith said. “But we’re going to play as long as we can. It’s definitely more of a brotherhood this year, and it will difficult to see each of us go our separate ways at the end of the season.”

The biggest question mark for Fruita against Arapahoe and in a potential second-round game against No. 2 Rock Canyon or No. 31 Doherty, is the Wildcats’ midfield. The defense has been dominant, and Wesley Padgett’s 20 goals matched the Warriors’ team total this season. But if the midfield can possess and distribute the ball well, McKee said his squad can compete in the state tournament.

Three seniors headline the midfield for Fruita, including captains Noah Nelson and Kyle Breeden.

Andrew Bryceland has battled back from a knee injury to finish with six assists, putting him in a three-way tie with Nelson and Breeden as the Wildcats’ assists leaders.

Nelson is a force in the center-midfielder position for Fruita. Listed at 5-foot-10, 182 pounds, he has plowed over opponents on both sides of the ball.

“I think he likes to be hit,” McKee said. “Sometimes that’s what it takes to get him going. I know against Montrose, Vijay (Singh) hit him a couple times, and he had a smile on his face. Once you hit Noah, you can light his fire. That can be scary.”

Breeden has taken more of a finesse approach to his outside midfielder duties. He is second on the team with 10 goals and is known for flying all over the field. Breeden isn’t afraid to tackle someone deep in the defensive third, but he also will play high on the wing to serve up crossing passes.

Breeden said the majority of Fruita’s offensive success in the midfield can be attributed to chemistry.

“It’s amazing to me how well we play together, for as long as we’ve been together, compared to some of these teams that have only been together for two or three years,” Breeden said. “We just know each others’ movements and exactly where the other person is going to be. We can give them a perfect ball where we know they’re going to be.”


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