With losing ways in past, Wildcats again aim for soccer playoffs

Fruita Monument senior Alec Smith practices his touches Tuesday during a drill at practice. Smith is a striker for the Wildcats, who are motivated to make their second straight playoff appearance.



QUICKREAD

CENTRAL

League: 5A Southwestern

Coach: Doug Beach (3rd year)

2009-10: 1-14 (1-9 SWL), missed playoffs.

Key players: Conor Beach, Sr., GK; Cory Rhodes, Sr., F, Mario Matias, Sr., F.

Outlook: The Warriors hope to improve after winning only one game last season. Central returns SWL first-team forward Cory Rhodes, who led the team in scoring last year, along with seasoned goalie Beach.

FRUITA MONUMENT

Coach: Dan McKee (2nd year)

Record:  6-8-1 (5-4-1 SWL), lost in first round of playoffs

League: 5A Southwestern

Top players: Scott Mende, Sr., GK; Alec Smith, Sr., F. 

Outlook: The Wildcats lost 12 players from last year’s 5A SWL championship team, but are hoping to pick up where they left off. McKee is confident Fruita can not only secure a playoff berth, but get to the second or third round of the playoffs.

GRAND JUNCTION

Coach: Stephen Latta (3rd year)

Record: 8-6-1 (5-4-1 SWL), lost in first round of playoffs

League: 5A Southwestern

Top players: Hill Bonin, Soph., GK; Kyle Gibbons, Sr., MF.; Andrew Murdock, Sr., MF.

Outlook: The Tigers lost several key players from last year, including striker Tim Hofer and SWL player of the year Sean Foster, but have a new group of seniors hoping to take the team to the playoffs for the sixth straight year.

PALISADE

Coach: Drake Jandreau (19th year)

Record: 2-11-2 (0-9-1 WSL), missed playoffs.

League: 4A Western Slope

Top players: Connor Carey, Jr., GK; Spencer Jackson, Jr., MF; Brett Hawkins, Sr., MF; Kasey Brueggeman, Sr., D.

Outlook: The Bulldogs lost only five seniors from last year’s team, including leading scorer Sam Tarin, and have several key starters, including Carey, Jackson, and Hawkins, and have a strong freshman class to help build a solid foundation for the future.



Two years ago, it was hard to imagine the Fruita Monument High School boys soccer team having a shot at a state playoff berth.

“When I was a sophomore I think we lost almost every single game except for one or two,” said senior Alec Smith, who was a sophomore on the 2009 team that went 2-11-2.

“A lot of people kind of had the attitude that winning’s impossible and you might as well go through the motions and not even try,” he said.

But last year, under returning coach Dan McKee, the Wildcats turned things around.

Even though the team finished 6-8-1, the Wildcats got a key league win over Grand Junction and made the team’s first playoff appearance since 2005.

“They had a desire,” McKee said. “They were getting tired of getting beat up in the valley.”

It’s a desire the Wildcats are hoping to once again bring to the pitch this fall, as they aim for a second straight playoff appearance.

That task seems daunting on paper.

The Wildcats lost 12 players from last year’s team, including goalie Tyler Kenagy and leading scorer Jack Allerd.

Replacing them will be a combination of players who either played as a reserve on the varsity squad or as part of a successful junior varsity team.

“We had a sophomore class at the JV level that was kind of hidden and whomped all over everybody,” McKee said. “They beat Durango at JV, they beat Montrose at JV, so these guys know what it’s like to win already.”

Smith said the Wildcats aren’t focused on who they lost because of the talent of the younger players.

“Those guys were huge for last year, but this year, in general, we have more skill, so I think in that way we’ll make up for what we lost,” Smith said.

Scott Mende served as a backup to Kenagy last year. He started one game against Montezuma-Cortez, which the Wildcats won 5-0.

“When Tyler got red-carded last year against Durango, Scott jumped in and pitched a shutout against Cortez,” McKee said. “It was no big deal to me. It was like ‘OK, we have a talented keeper (either way.)’ “

On the other end of the field, Smith will be part of a three-man rotation with Peter Martinez and Avery Cooper at forward.

“Our numbers are down 12, but we’re still just as talented,” McKee said.

Smith said the Wildcats’ biggest obstacle is getting the new varsity players up to speed.

“We’re just going to have to keep working on teamwork, since we have a lot of new guys this year,” he said. “Just getting them into the varsity groove is really important.”

Once they get there, the goal is to win the Southwestern League championship and make a second straight playoff trip.

“When we go to state, our real goal is actually to win a game at state instead of just going in and losing the first game at state and coming back home,” Smith said.

But compared to last year, the road could be tougher. The three Class 5A SWL teams — Central, Junction and Fruita — will be vying for one guaranteed playoff spot, compared to two in 2010, and the ‘Cats already know they have a target on their back.

“We call it the city championship because it’s between the three of us,” McKee said. “We have to win that city championship to get to the next level.”

Smith said this year’s team is focused on getting back to that level.

“Everyone says winning isn’t everything, you’re just out there to have fun,” he said. “That’s true.

“It’s definitely more fun when you win, so that’s what everyone’s got in their head right now, is that we’ve got to win.”


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