How do you replace a senior class that won two regional championships, one Central Suburban League South division title and only lost a combined five games in two years?
That’s the task confronting Evanston soccer coach Franz Calixte entering his 17th season at the helm. Calixte’s team opens the 2015 season on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at home versus Conant with plenty of new faces in the lineup.
Evanston’s rebuilding efforts must start on the defensive side of the ball, where goalie Adam Masters is the only returning starter from a defense that ranked as one of the best in the state of Illinois last fall. That defense was a big reason the Kits compiled a sterling 16-3-4 record, losing 1-0 to rival New Trier in the sectional championship game.
Adam Trujillo and Christyan De La Cruz, two midfielders, and forward Erick Balthazar are also back as starters.
“With only a handful of starters back, we are rebuilding. We have to play the mental game this year,” Calixte said. “We had so many seniors contributing to one of the best defenses we’ve had since I’ve been here and they won’t be easy to replace.
“In Adam Masters we have one of the best goalies we’ve had here in a long time. He’s bigger, stronger, faster and wiser this year. We think he’s one of the best in the state. His composure back there is what separates him from the rest. He trains all year long and really worked hard in the off-season. We know we can count on him.”
With Masters in the net for last week’s preseason scrimmages with the ETHS junior varsity and sophomore squads, the varsity didn’t give up a single goal. But a 2-0 win over the JV team and a 0-0 tie with a promising bunch of sophomores underscored the fact that Masters will be under the gun when the season opens because the Kits don’t figure to score a lot of goals themselves. “We could set a record for 1-0 or 0-0 games,” Calixte admitted.
Masters hopes to play at Yale University and he’ll have two new book-smart and soccer-smart defenders in front of him in Matteo DiBernardo and Zane Kashner. Both seniors racked up perfect scores on their ACT college entrance exams, so understanding the defensive concepts employed by Calixte shouldn’t be an issue even though neither saw the field much as juniors.
Also in the mix to start on defense are Henry Honzel and Henry Young, who were varsity backups last season.
On offense, ETHS will look to both Balthazar and senior classmate Jesus Villasenor for increased production. Balthazar totaled 11 goals and 10 assists last year and “we need him to double his output this year,” the coach said. “We’re hoping for a 20-goal season from Erick. Once we get him fit, there’ll be no stopping him.
“Jesus only played 8-12 minutes a game for us last year but he still wound up our third leading scorer. He was the most productive player we had per minutes played, and we’re really excited about his potential. He’s bigger, stronger and faster this year and we expect a lot from him.”
Villasenor and senior Jack Betterman scored Evanston’s only two goals in the two scrimmages Saturday.
Trujillo and De La Cruz should provide steadying influences in the midfield — and some scoring punch would help, too. That could eventually come from a rising group of sophomores who almost pulled off the first victory for the underclassmen versus the varsity in the fall scrimmage in 15 years.
“That sophomore group is the group we’ve been waiting for, and they weren’t afraid of playing against the varsity guys because three of the varsity guys (Di Bernardo, Trujillo, Kyle Thompson) have younger brothers on the soph team, and they’re used to playing against each other.
“We could have gone really young with our lineup and brought a lot of those guys up right away, but the seniors have shown such dedication. They deserve our loyalty and the opportunity to play.