Young players rely on veterans to help speed up ripening process
One by one, the procession of cars pulled into the Tech parking lot. A truck bed full of boys piled out of a vehicle and slinked onto the splotchy green field.
It looked like a scene out of “The Sandlot.” They were dressed in T-shirts and nylon shorts that hung loosely from their rail-thin bodies. Most looked liked they hadn’t quite hit their growth spurt. They were physically unimposing. Come to realize, this is the Socorro boys soccer team, and “young” doesn’t quite capture it.
Similar to last year, head coach Chuck Ngo’s team will have few seniors. Three in all, compared to two last season. The roster demographics? Not counting the three seniors, the Warriors have 10 freshmen, six juniors and six eighth-graders. Of those, 18 will play on the varsity squad.
What the boys might lack in experience or stature, however, they make up for in spirit.
Ngo said the one disadvantage of the youth movement is that veterans are hesitant to put faith in the underclassmen. That coming-of-age will happen in time. Ngo said they don’t have a choice.
“They have to learn to trust (their teammates),” he said. “You can’t just take a ball in and score. You can’t be a one-man show and go through 10 players to score a goal.”
Perhaps it’s difficult to comprehend because SHS fell on hard times, but four years ago the Warriors played for the state championship and lost to Hope Christian. Last year, not so much. The Warriors went an unspectacular 1-16, their lone win coming against Hatch Valley, the eventual district champs.
The difference between then and now? Junior Will Schaffer said that championship-caliber team was also senior-laden.
“If anything this year, it doesn’t have to do with talent, but size and experience,” said Schaffer, whose 6-foot-2-inch frame places him among the tallest on the Warriors’ roster.
Schaffer also happens to be one of the team’s most mature players. He speaks with a polish unbecoming a high school junior and has the poise of a college senior who has experienced all the rigors of high-stakes athletics.
“We had to grow up quickly,” Schaffer said.
Grow into a leader is what Schaffer has done. He along with senior Hans Hofner and transfer Nate Fenby will be the Warriors’ vocal presence and extensions of the coach on the field.
“The instant gratification for me isn’t winning, but seeing the younger guys grow and get better,” Schaffer said. “I used to be in their shoes.”
As did Hofner, who two years ago devoted himself to playing soccer on a more full-time basis. A late-bloomer perhaps, Hofner’s affinity for the game is at such a level that he aspires to play collegiately. In that respect, he’s at a disadvantage, so long as Socorro continues down its current path, a notion, it seems, Hofner fully grasps.
“It’s hard to impress coaches and look good without winning,” he said.
That, however, is something Schaffer, Hofner and Fenby are looking to change.
In its last scrimmage against Grants, a contest the Warriors dropped 4-0, Fenby said he found himself encouraging his defenders.
“I was talking to the D because we had a couple of mental lapses that led to goals,” said Fenby, a senior who transferred from a small school in Vermont.
Yet they understand they might not be around to see the fruits of their labor. This crop of players, Schaffer said, is on the cusp of turning a corner, but they still might be one or two years of being a formidable opponent to be reckoned with.
“We’re just in the (midst) of a couple building years, to be blunt,” he said.
The good news is that project is nearing completion.
Hofner said the Warriors’ victory over Hatch last year could be a precursor for what they can do once they gel.
“I always remember that win,” he said. “It shows me we can win against top teams.”
But in facing those top teams, Hofner said, he can still sense some of his younger teammates’ anxiety. So he talks them up as much as he can.
“The usual,” he said, when asked what advice he offers them. “‘Don’t worry. Do your best. Work hard.’”
Simple, yet effective.
Schaffer said this season cannot be gauged solely on wins and losses.
“If our record doesn’t show success, that doesn’t mean our team hasn’t gotten better,” he said.
Contact Isaac Avilucea