By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (January 3, 2017) — Stephenville is looking to build on the most successful season in the history of its boys soccer program, and the Yellow Jackets have what second-year head coach Chayden Feist calls some “heavy hitters” back to lead the way.
Like Aaron Veloz, for example. Having led the team in scoring including a pair of playoff hat tricks in 2016, the star striker is back as a senior.
“Anytime Veloz gets the ball everyone just kind of holds their breath and gets ready, because a highlight finish could come at any moment,” says Feist. “That’s what he is, a finisher. And we feel like we have some other guys who are going to be great goal scorers, too, so that should be a strength for us.”
While the likes of Pedro Mannriquez, Santi Gallego and Aaron Burrows may be gone, Stephenville does return Ivan Cabrera and Tino Rocha, who each burst on the scenes with strong 2016 campaigns, helping the Yellow Jackets to their first undefeated regular season, district championship, and regional tournament appearance in school history.
“Ivan and Tino are heavy hitters like Veloz, and those guys have to be leaders now,” said Feist. “Hopefully we’ve established a level of leadership and expectations that guide us, and the younger guys will come along and fill in their roles.”
Guys like Jorge Gallegos, a freshman Feist says will be starting right out the gate and has “a lot of potential to become a great player for us.”
There’s also Kevin Martinez, a sophomore who shined on the junior varsity club a year ago and got into a couple matches while dressing with the varsity during the playoffs.
“He’s a great communicator, and that’s one thing we need with some of last year’s leaders being gone,” said Feist. “(Martinez) is going to be vital to our success this year.”
When the Jackets scrimmage Fort Worth Southwest at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Lem Brock Field, they will also be breaking in a new keeper in AJ Brown, who has some big shoes to fill following the graduation of Noble Alexander.
“Noble was a big time leader for us last year, and hopefully AJ will develop into that, too,” said Feist. “We need him to be a player back there and to really gel with the other guys on defense.”
Feist said the Jackets took on a different focus last year following their championship upset of Waco University in the Knights of Columbus Challenge of Champions.
“I really think after we won the Knights of Columbus, we knew we had the opportunity to be special, and once we believed it everyone came together and worked hard and made it happen,” he said. “I’m hoping we can do something like that again this year, something early on to really show the guys, this is the norm now, this where we expect to be.”
It’s certainly where Feist expects the program to be, and not just one time.
“Now the pressure is on us to show that last year wasn’t just a one-time thing,” he said. “We want Stephenville to be one of those programs that is known for success year-in and year-out in boys soccer. Last year, we raised the bar, now we have to keep it there and see if we can’t raise it up a little more.”