With boys soccer season underway, here’s a look at each of Robeson County’s four high school teams and what they have to offer on the pitch this season.
A roster loaded with 13 seniors is what the St. Pauls boys soccer team brings into the 2016 season, with a slew of tough challenges facing the squad before it hits Three Rivers Conference play.
“It’s going to be one of the most difficult seasons we have played ever,” St. Pauls coach Brent Martin said. “Our first opening eight non-conference games are against 4A competition.
“It’s going to be a challenge for these guys.”
With a tough non-conference slate to prepare his team for conference play and an experienced roster, Martin knows that this season is for the taking for his team that will have three returners next year.
“These guys are going to have a great opportunity. I just hope they take advantage of it,” Martin said. “I’m hoping this year that playing at this high level will pay off for them.”
Captain Anthony Espinosa along with Ricardo Flores, Chris Irra and Victor Garcia head the 13-member senior class on a team that wishes to build off of last year’s first-round home playoff loss. Espinosa is a facilitator for the team out of the midfield and Flores finished third in the TRC in goals and led the team with 14 goals.
“We feel like we can go really far this season,” Espinosa said. “Last season, we got really close. I feel really confident with this team.
“I think with all of the seniors we can do really good.”
Coming off a three-way tie for second for the TRC regular season crown, the Bulldogs feel that the conference title is a reachable this season.
“Every year that’s a goal and especially this year that’s something we can attain,” Martin said. “The conference is not going to be easy, but I feel that if we really want to win the games I feel like we can.”
Around a core of some top returners from last year’s 13-8-2 team, Lumberton has younger players that will look to fill holes in the lineup this season.
“We’ve got some experienced players and we’re trying to blend in some younger guys,” Lumberton coach Kenny Simmons said. “We’ve had the injury bug hit us. … So we are going to need the younger players to come around.”
Leading the returners for Lumberton is junior Rene Altamirano who led the Southeastern Conference in goals last season with 21. Offensively, sophomore Christian Santos and junior Noah Taylor will be looked upon to provide scoring from the forward position, and seniors Zach Cox and Jose Galindo will anchor the defense with senior Alex Wober splitting time in goal with a few others.
“Our team is pretty much based around Rene Altamirano,” Simmons said. “We’ve got some good seniors that make up the defense.”
“I think we’re going to be very good,” Altamirano said. “We can go to the conference championship and we can go pretty far. We’ve got a pretty good team with young players, but they give it all they got.”
With a team of new faces, Simmons is working to see what kind of style of play his team will showcase.
“We’ve got pretty decent team speed,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure out our style of play. I’m not sure if we’re going to be a good possession team, or if we will be a team that plays a little more direct.”
Last season, Lumberton finished the season in a tie for second in the SEC regular season and made it to the conference tournament championship before falling 2-1 to Pinecrest. The goal for this year’s team is to replicate that success.
“We’re a program that we like to think we can keep that same level of play,” Simmons said.
Red Springs coach Eduardo Torres feels strongly about his team’s postseason chances going into the 2016 season after making the second round last season.
“I expect to hit the playoffs and at a very minimum the second or third round,” Torres said.
The Red Devils posted a 8-5-1 record last season and finished in a three-way tie for second in the TRC, but to follow up and match the feats from last season will require leadership. Leadership is something Torres is looking to build within his team that has experience despite losing the team’s top goal scorer from 2015.
“They’re bringing speed, they’ve got the endurance, they’ve got the skills and they just need teamwork,” he said. “They’re young and don’t have that leadership attitude. Sometimes you can’t teach that. We’re trying to instill it.”
Red Springs returns its two of its top scorers from last season in Jose Villalva and Francis Rodriguez who scored seven goals apiece last season. Villalva led the team with seven assists as well. Oscar Cruz, Martin Mendoza and Bernardo Lopez will also be contributors on the field for Red Springs as well.
While leadership is still being formed, chemistry is something the team has on its side, according to the coaching staff, from growing up and playing together.
“They’re technically sound and make good passes,” assistant coach William Garcia said. “Most of these guys play Sunday league together so they know how to work with each other.”
With a pair of experienced forwards leading the offense, Purnell Swett hopes for improved season this fall after a 2-15-2 season in 2015.
Purnell Swett coach Alaric Strickland sees improvement from his team in their technical abilities out on the field so far this season.
“They understand what I’m asking of them more,” Strickland said. “Instead of just kicking and running, they’re looking to make a pass to teammates’ foot.”
Senior transfer Brayan Azua and junior Vidal Velasquez will be looked upon to lead the offense with their experience. Azua comes in from Red Springs.
“He’s another one we’re going to count on because he had 10 goals last year,” Strickland said. “The addition of Brayan and him is a good combination for the offense.”
Senior midfielder Dawson Brooks and defender Michael Connor will also be leaders of the team. The Rams feature rising freshman goalkeeper Nick Ramirez, who Strickland said has impressed him leading up to the season.
Bonding is an area Strickland said the team usually takes a few weeks into the season to build, but this year, with the help of camps and summer workouts, he see his team has bonded and gelled together.
“The bonding is there so they’re already working hard for each other,” he said. “I’m looking for consistency and improvement as the season goes on,”
Red Springs’ Francis Rodriguez is the Red Devils’ leading returning scorer from last season and will lead the team’s forwards this season.
Purnell Swett’s Dylan Chmura (3) and Pacey Brooks (14) will anchor the Rams’ defense this fall.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.