While not starting completely from scratch, it is a rebuilding year for the Mansfield boys soccer team. Only three starters return from a club that failed to make the playoffs last year, so the Tigers will have a lot of new faces to go with their new attitude this season.
“We’re pretty much starting completely over,” coach John Fazekas said.
When the Tigers played Kennedale last week, four sophomores and a freshman played most of the game, indicating the youth Mansfield will put on the field this season.
“A lot of young kids in there mesh with the seniors and we’re getting better every step of the way,” Fazekas said. “We still have a long way to go, but we’re all on the same page and all want to be successful.”
Most impressive to Fazekas so far is that his upperclassmen have set their egos aside.
“The biggest thing is that the young guys and the seniors are coming together. Sometimes the seniors will try to run the show,” the coach said. “These young guys coming in are very talented players and the seniors see that. So they’ve been really working well together as a group. A lot of times you don’t have that.”
The group has been working since before official workouts even started. Junior Nicko West took it upon himself to organize practices several times a week as soon as school started. What began as a small group turned into most of the team.
“He’s been a very good leader for us. He’s been very determined. He gives 110 percent when he’s out there. He just wants to win, so he works hard,” said Fazekas, who also commented how proud he was of West for taking initiative. “When you have that kind of attitude and the kids really want to play, good things are going to happen.”
The Tigers won three of their first four games, but the results weren’t as important to Fazekas as the progress, which he definitely sees.
“I’m extremely pleased, they’re working really hard,” he said.
Sophomores Sergio Garrido and Max Devarennes are developing chemistry as the central midfielders, while freshman forward Teren Tate has shown plenty of promise. Tate played one half of a scrimmage with the JV before Fazekas made the decision to call him up.
“Sometimes you don’t know if these young kids can get out there and play with 17 and 18-year-olds,” Fazekas said. “He does. You could tell right away he’s going to be helpful to us.”
Given the youth and inexperience, Mansfield is keeping realistic expectations. The primary goal is to make the playoffs, and not as a fourth seed to avoid the winner of powerful District 7-6A. Fazekas knows it’ll take maturation and a bit of good fortune along the way.
“With a little luck we can pull off those one-goal games that we lost last year,” he said.
Already once this year the Tigers have shown poise in such a situation. Twice The Colony answered Mansfield goals before the Tigers scored with under a minute remaining to win the match 3-2.
“We need to have the confidence to finish the game. I think that’s one thing about last year, that at the end we would tighten up because we were scared,” Fazekas said. “[Against The Colony] we never stopped, we kept going. We’re much looser as a group. Maybe that’s because they’re young, I don’t know, but I’m excited about it.”