Deni Salas

Senior Deni Salas traps a ball with his chest during a drill at practice.

MURRAY After a 17-6 season, regional championship, and featuring the leading scorer in the state of Kentucky, the Calloway County Lakers boys’ soccer team has plenty of work ahead to make a similar run this year.

Head Coach Evan Pierce said they are a young team this year and that if they are going to win their third regional championship in a row, it’s going to take plenty of hard work and for the seniors to lead the way.

“As far as bringing back players, we have some great seniors that have really shown a lot of leadership this year,” Pierce said. “We have Mervin (Tovar), we have Briley (Scott), we have Dillian (Granda), and we have Deni (Salas). They’ve been around and they’ve seen success and they’ve seen what it takes to be successful. They’ve really pushed our guys when we’re out here. Anything I ask, they are willing to do it, so I think that leadership and experience is important because outside of them, we are a really young team. We have three juniors and the rest are freshmen and sophomores.”

On the one hand, the team is extremely young, but on the other hand, the returners are aware of what it takes to earn a championship.

“Having those upperclassmen that have been a part of the last few years, just as far as experience goes, is huge for us,” Pierce said. 

Two years ago, the Lakers graduated Christian Adams, who led the team with 39 goals. Then a year later, Jacob Smith scored 51 goals as a senior. Looking at this year, the Lakers don’t expect to have a leading scorer that has such a gap from one to two on the stat sheet. 

“I think this year more than anything, our scoring is going to be more spread around our team,” Pierce said. “If you look back through the past few years, like last year, Jacob scored a ton of goals and it was a lot more than anybody else. I think this year it’s not going to be as much one person that’s coming through to carry us every game. It’s going to be who’s feeling it that game, who’s into it, and it’s just going to be a team effort as far as scoring goes. I really think it could come from anybody.”

If the team is going to be balanced and replace the offensive output of guys from the past, they will need to find a rhythm with each other and reach that level of comfort that comes from being on the same page.

“Ultimately, it has to start with team chemistry,” Tovar said. “We have to build that and we have to work on defense and just come together as a team. The past is the past. This is this team now, and we have a great group of guys and I think it’s going to be a fun season.”

This season, the district has a favorite in Marshall County, but like every year, anything can happen. The parity of the district means that nobody is out until the final whistle blows on their season.

“I would say Marshall is going to be the biggest competition. They have their scorer back, Bryce (Penn), and they have a lot of their defenders back,” Pierce said. “They always have a solid team, always, but I really feel like any given night it can be anybody. Every year I feel like I keep saying, ‘This year, it feels like it could be anybody,’ but as we go on, it feels closer and closer and honestly, between the five of us right now, I would say Marshall is probably a little bit ahead of everyone. But then out of the rest of us, anybody can make a run.”

Scott said the team has a few kinks to iron out as they start their season today against Madisonville-North Hopkins High School, but if they continue to work hard, he thinks they could once again be the regional champs.

“I think we can come out on top any day,” Scott said. “It’s a team sport and if we work together, we will for sure come out on top.”

Tovar said one of the most important parts of the recent run of success for the Lakers is the coaching staff.

“We have a great coaching staff,” Tovar said. “I trust in Evan. As long as we really work hard, we’re going to have a really good season and we’re going to have a lot of fun.”

With the first game of the season set for tonight, Pierce and Scott said they might have some early season struggles compared to years past, but warned fans not to fret because it’s a process.

“This year, we are so young that I think to start with it may be a little bit more difficult for us than it has been,” Pierce said. “But as we adjust and as we figure out the pace of the game with some of our younger guys and stuff, I feel like we’ll really improve.”

“We have a lot of building to do, but I think that this team can be better than what we’ve had,” Scott said. “If we work hard enough, I know we can do it. We do need to work on our defense — getting balls out of the area and just keep working hard.”

With their sights set on three-peating as regional champs, Pierce said he’s given this team the same message as the past two teams.

“We just do what we’ve been doing,” Pierce said. “We work hard throughout the summer. We work hard throughout the season. We really push ourselves and we try to be the best team we can come fall, and if we succeed in doing that, then the sky is the limit for this team, just like I’ve told them the last few years.”

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