Hitting the turning point

Boys soccer enters district play with promising 9-2 record

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Adeen Rao

Coach Woodard speaks to his team following a 3-0 win over Spring at Atascocita High School.

Adeen Rao, Staff Writer

The theme for winter sports has long been success for the girls and frustration for the boys. This year, boys soccer took a big step toward changing that narrative, as they’ve doubled their win total from the last three years in non-district play alone.

Ahead of tonight’s highly anticipated game against Tomball, the team is looking to move this momentum into their district opener.

“The last couple of years have been pretty hard on our team,” captain senior Mason Knox said. “We really want to prove to everyone that we are a much different team this year.”

Boasting a +10 goal differential with a mere seven goals allowed in 11 games, the Wildcat defense’s veteran presence, which consists of seniors Knox, Gavin Webber, and assistant captain Austin Grantham alongside junior Tyler Honea, has proven to be a valuable asset. The backline also consists of senior fullback Daniel Reed and senior fullback Cameron Jernagin, who returns to the soccer team after making a cameo as a kicker for varsity football.

Currently, the Wildcats are on a four-game clean sheet streak, which has featured shutouts against state-ranked teams like Atascocita. Much of the discipline shown by the Wildcats can be attributed to head coach James Woodard, who has been the head coach since Tomball Memorial opened.

“Woodard is the heart of the team, he is very optimistic and finds positivity in all circumstances,” Grantham said. “Without him, we wouldn’t be where we are right now.”

Knox consistently intercepts balls from teams looking to maniuplate the outside, sending them right back where they came from. Webber and Grantham general the middle of the defensive end, with Grantham as more of an aerial specialist while Webber tackles opposing attackers. Honea is the only starting defender who will return next season, and he is what one would call a swiss army knife. He can play left back, right back, centerback, right midfield, and left midfield.

“I feel very confident in our team and the production we have shown,” Grantham said. “We have an elite defense that is very difficult for opposing teams to handle.”

Contrary to the backline, the midfield is full of underclassmen. Junior Alexander Cumi frequently plays the holding midfielder spot and right midfield is usually taken up by junior Laine Dearman. Left midfielder is a tandem between senior Chris Mendoza and junior Ivan Cano, with Mendoza more likely to have a go at the net while Cano usually looks to make a run and set up a scoring chance. The attacking midfielders are sophomore Andres Contreras and junior Caleb Sligh.

“Cumi and Sligh are some of the hardest working guys on the team,” Knox said. “They are always training and always growing.”

At striker, Woodard has junior Andrei Maruntelu, whose launched goals this season from as far as 25-30 yards out. Between the sticks, Woodard rolls with a tandem of junior goalkeepers in Francisco Rincon and Burke Aubele. The usual set-up barring injury has both splitting a game, with one playing each half. However, a change in the routine could come if fatigue enters the equation. Thanks to the defense, both are rarely tested, but they serve the team well when making saves and restarting the attack.

“I think the goalies are the most underrated aspect of our team,” Knox said. “They are the last thing the ball sees before hitting the net and thanks to them the ball has not hit that net.”

The Wildcats’ depth is nothing to scoff at by any means, with players like junior Danny Gamez, the aforementioned Reed and Jernagin, junior Aaron Guerrero and sophomore Carson Posey. Gamez is usually brought in to relieve either Contreras or Maruntelu after either takes a hard foul, and he is also among the most animated players in the back of the team bus. Guerrero is a striker who has frequently shifted between varsity and JV frequently due to injury. Posey is nicknamed the “little master,” and what he lacks in size he makes up in skill.

With the team gearing up for their district opener, the boys in navy are itching to prove they are finally a winter sport that deserves school-wide respect.