There’s an old adage in sports that it’s not where you start, but where you end up. The Lake Ridge boys soccer team is hoping it can end like it has started. The reigning district champs have come storming out of the gate this season, winning their first seven matches, including their first four in District 14-5A competition.
The early success hasn’t come as a total surprise to head coach Cory Elolf, who was Coach of the Year in District 16-4A last season.
“I knew we had the players, but we didn’t necessarily have the depth,” he said. “Our depth isn’t there right now, but whenever we put out 11 players it’s the best we’ve been in the three years [the school] has been open.”
The Eagles lost a half-dozen seniors from last season’s squad and an additional four players through attrition. Three chose to play academy soccer while another transferred away. What remains is the smallest roster Elolf has ever fielded on the varsity level, just 18 players. Still, all of them have at least some varsity experience, and many have grown with this program since its inception.
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“The first year we were open we had four freshmen on varsity,” Elolf pointed out. “The second year we had four freshmen. This year we only have one. So those younger guys really just replaced everybody.”
Though experienced, some of these players spent more time on the bench than field last season, and trying to figure out the best roles for everyone this year has been an ongoing process for the coaching staff.
“It’s kind of a puzzle trying to put it all together and seeing what fits where. It’s a never-ending puzzle, because we’re always experiencing injuries,” Elolf said. “This team has done a good job of knowing their roles and knowing that their roles can change in an instant.”
Elolf also said it’s a testament to the individual skill and soccer knowledge of his players that so many of them can play various roles and positions. Sophomore Kalon Henson, for example, has spent time in defense, midfield and in an attacking position already this season.
“What this group has done better than any group I’ve had in the past is to put the team first rather than themselves,” Elolf said. “It’s really more of a team concept than an ‘I’ concept. Everyone wants to be a forward, but we can’t have 11 forwards. Someone has to play defense and midfield.”
Brock Blanton and Diego Piceno are two guys regularly seen patrolling the defensive back line, and are a big reason the Eagles have surrendered only one goal through their first seven matches.
At the other end of the pitch, Jarred Stubblefield has been the go-to attacker, notching seven goals in seven games.
A welcome return to the midfield is Colton O’Brian, who missed most of last season with a knee injury.
One thing all these players have in common is the lingering distaste of last season’s bi-district playoff loss. The Eagles, as the top seed from their district, fell to Granbury for the second consecutive year. It was both surprising and disappointing for Lake Ridge.
“It was a disappointment and something these guys don’t want to let happen again,” Elolf said. “They were part of it. They hurt. We used that as a motivation this year. So I think they’re concentrating on each game and getting better and progressing.”
That experience last year has helped cement the “one-game-at-a-time” cliché that coaches often try to hammer home.
“We try to use every game as a stepping stone,” Elolf said. “We don’t really talk about district championships or anything like that. We just talk about the next game and what it will take to win the next game.”
And so far that has worked perfectly.