There is a large contingent of upperclassmen ready to anchor the rise of the Denison boys soccer program. Several of them are multi-year starters and have received all-district honors.
But getting that to all come together in the way of victories is the big challenge facing these Yellow Jackets. The start to the past two seasons has shown promise but it has not carried over into district play.
There is a more experienced group taking the field as Denison opens its season against Melissa at 5:30 p.m. on Monday and the Jackets are trying to put the struggles behind them.
“We’ve been working hard, ready to get after it,” head coach Scotty Voight said. “Hopefully we’ll continue to get better. We have quite a few returning on the varsity. There’s a lot of guys with two or three years of experience and that always helps. I’ve got some guys who are interchangeable.”
Last season Denison was 3-16-3 and took a step back in the win column. In trying to make the playoffs for the first time in four years, the Jackets will need to find a way to rise from the bottom of the district standings. The program hasn’t won a district contest the past two seasons and was 0-12-2 a year ago with ties against Sherman and Denton.
“There were opportunities, games we were in ‘till the end,” Voight said. “We let a few of them get away and that’s a learning experience. We’re hoping with the leadership and experience coming back, we can get past that. I think there’s a chance there to compete.”
To be in the mix for the postseason and leapfrog a couple of teams, they will need to see their point total get into double digits. The first way to do that is increase goal production. Injuries were a big reason why Denison’s scoring dropped off but the Jackets have been working to find the right combinations.
There will be a couple of options at the forward position as Denison needs to replace Gonzalo Rodriguez, who was a first-team all-district selection.
A pair of freshmen, Samuel O’Rear and Reece Stange, will have a chance to contribute immediately. Stange’s oldest sister Allie is the Lady Jackets’ all-time leader in goals, assists and points.
“Just got to get them some more high school experience,” Voight said.
Juniors Logan Mullens and Josue Zamora, an honorable mention all-district pick at midfielder, as well as sophomore Celso Longoria should see minutes up top depending on the usage in the midfield.
Senior Jared Aguilar and junior Andres Menjivar, who was second-team all-district, lead a group that is rounded out by senior Nathan Garcia and junior Moises Mandujano.
Denison did lose the 5-5A Defensive Newcomer of the Year, Spanish transfer student Alvaro Puga-Noreiga, from the unit.
Senior Luke Altnether moved to defender a year ago and was a first-team all-district selection. He will head a group that will need to replace second-team all-district choice Shane Roberts, another Jacket who had made the transition to defense. Seniors Gustavo Jimenez and Efrain Sauceda are returning starters while junior Jayden Pacheco joins the unit.
“We’ve got some experience in the back end,” Voight said.
Senior Osvaldo Delarosa was the starting keeper and an honorable mention all-district pick and will once again be backed up by junior Kevin Roblero-Perez, although Voight intimated a close battle has been taking place.
“We’ve been splitting time in the scrimmages — each getting a half,” he said. “They’ve both been doing a good job. We’re also utilizing Kevin on the field and that’s been good for us.”
In addition to non-district matches against Melissa and North Lamar, the Jackets will host its Varsity Cup and compete in the Birdville Tournament before entering District 5-5A play on January 23. The second-year grouping of Wichita Falls, Rider, Denton Ryan, Sherman, Denton and Denton Braswell have the first four teams seeking a playoff return. Wichita Falls and Rider shared the district title at 27 points with Wichita Falls getting the top seed.
“They’re really looking forward to it and really worked hard in the off-season and if you put in the work, good things can happen,” Voight said.