Originally Published: August 28, 2018 10:10 p.m.
CHINO VALLEY — In 2017, the Chino Valley boys’ soccer team won 21 straight matches before running into a brick wall in the 2A state semifinals.
The Cougars’ 1-0 loss in the semis to upstart and eventual state champion Phoenix Country Day last October in Gilbert was a wake-up call for a program that had captured four consecutive state titles in small-school soccer (2013-2016), all against rival Blue Ridge.
Chino Valley gets back after it when the squad begins the 2018 season at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 29, versus Show Low, a 2017 state semifinalist, at home.
“We were 21-1 last year, but it’s still hard to win a state championship,” said fourth-year coach Todd Carey, who guided Chino Valley to two state titles in his first three seasons, from practice in mid-August.
In the offseason, the Cougars graduated nine seniors. Eleven letter winners return to the 18-member team, however, and several of them were important pieces to the 2017 team.
Carey said he expects Central region foe Phoenix Country Day, Blue Ridge and Show Low to be in the state tournament conversation along with Chino Valley this fall. The Cougars visit Country Day Sept. 25.
“We have a solid 11 guys, even though we’re not as deep as we were last year,” Carey added.
The future also looks bright.
“We have nine to 10 freshmen here [at practice],” Carey said. “Two to three have a decent shot of starting, and five to six of them have a shot at [making] varsity. It is exciting to look at these freshmen.”
In the Cougars’ high-octane attack, midfielders Jordan Sanchez and Quade Kellerman will quarterback the show, and they should have help from freshman midfielder/defender Junior Soto. They will be feeding the ball to forwards Angel Sanchez, Irving Vedolla and freshman Orlando Santoyo.
Angel Sanchez said losing in the state semis last year was difficult for Chino Valley’s players, but that he’s “left it behind” and that he and his teammates need “to keep our heads up.”
“Everyone’s trying their hardest,” Angel added. “Graduating all of those seniors really affected us. But we’re playing really strong and giving good effort.”
Defensively, capable senior goalkeeper Abraham Gamez is joined by defenders Johnny Gomez-Beltran, Ethan Addy, Diego Jimenez and Layton Newberry, who’s expected to miss some time due to injury. Freshman Ravi Holladay may challenge for a starting defender spot, Carey said.
“We could have a good starting 11,” Jordan Sanchez added.
The coach praised Gamez, who, he said, has “done a real good job” with the help of new assistant coach Jesus Gutierrez, as well as Gomez-Beltran and Addy.
“Johnny’s been a starter the last two years, and he’s been very solid in the back,” Carey said. “Ethan has improved so much in the last year. He’s our most improved player.”
Doug Cook is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter at @dougout_dc. Email him at email@example.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2039.