An experienced Yosemite High boys soccer team enters the new season with expectations of being contenders for the North Sequoia League title - a title last held in 1992.
“The main reason for this expectation is that we return many players from last year’s team,” said sixth-year coach Rick Lemberg. “This year’s team is made up of an experienced group of young men.”
Lemberg feels if his players can avoid any major injuries and stay healthy, his team, including 13 seniors, will be very competitive.
Just last week he added the last players to the team, as they were on the cross country team and just finished their season.
The seniors include Jordan Berg, Naryan Black, Zac Burtle-English, Paul Esposito, Kevin Kirk, Quentin Lawrence, Brendan Rhoan, Ethan Solomon, Michael Stamets, Andrew Volpetti, Tyler Wallace, Travis Wood, and Trevor Wood.
Five of the seniors (Esposito, Travis and Trevor Wood, Rhoan, and Wallace) were starters on last year’s team that went 3-14-1 overall and 2-7-1 in league play. The team was hampered towards the end of the season with as many as six players being out with injuries or illness.
One of the highlights from last year was a home 2-1 overtime win over Sierra in the eighth league game of the season. Senior Oliver Curley scored both goals.
In addition to the seniors, there are three juniors on this year’s team (Joe Campbell, Dalin Haas, Juan Solis), three sophomores (Jacob Pitkanen, Jack Rice, Russell Zelazo), and one freshman, Ethan Conti.
Lemberg said his team will employ a different formation this year.
“We are going with a 4-3-3. This formation allows for great flexibility as it can easily to changed to assist defensively, or if we need help offensively,” Lemberg said. “This system is a little more aggressive in style than the one we used last year, and we are counting on our experienced players to be able to understand when to attack and when to pull back and defend. The young men have been practicing this formation for about a month now, and we are beginning to see some good progress in understanding how it works.”
Although the new formation is quite different from last year, Lemberg said it should make for an exciting style of play.
“The key will be for the midfield players to learn to transition from defending to attacking and vice-versa,” Lemberg said.
The team has three quality goal keepers - Berg, Kirk, and Black - with the later two returning from last year.
The defense will be centered around two center backs - Rhoan and Trevor Wood.
“Both of these seniors are fast, smart, and good communicators,” Lemberg said. “Rounding out our backs are Burtle-English, Campbell, Rice, and Conti. This formation allows for the outside backs to move into the offense as attacking backs, and these young men are excited about this possibility.”
Lemberg said the biggest change in this year’s team will be at midfield.
“Instead of using a flat three, we will employ a triangle, with the midfield headed up by Travis Wood,” Lemberg said.
The other midfielders will be Lawrence, Solis, Zelazo, Volpetti and Haas.
The team will attack with three forwards this year in contrast to the two used last year. Wallace, an all-league player last season, is expected to lead the attack this year. He will be assisted by Esposito, Stamets, Solomon, and Pitkanen.
Lemberg will welcome back his long-time Assistant Coach Bill Stolp, whose knowledge of the game is used and trusted by the head coach. Lemberg will also be assisted by Vanessa Mello, another well-known coach in the Mountain Area with years of experience who was the boys varsity coach at Minarets High School last year.
“The boys are excited to have Vanessa working with them, and we are also excited to have coach Adam Kernaghan return, working extensively with the goal keepers who have grown and improved under Adam’s tutelage. Our players really benefit from the experience Stolp, Mello, and Kernighan bring to our program.”
The team, minus four starters who were not available for the game, traveled to Reedley Monday to play a strong Pirates team, losing 10-1. Goal keeper Kevin Kirk had 13 saves. Yosemite’s lone score came from Tyler Wallace off an assist from Paul Esposito.
Looking past the Reedley game, Lemberg is looking forward to a successful season.
“I think this team is going to be very competitive and successful this season,” Lemberg said. “We expect to be in the mix for a league title with the hopes of participating in the CIF Central Section playoffs at the end of the season.”
YHS graduate and standout soccer player Victor Salazar is coaching the JV team.
“This is Victor’s first coaching job and he is already doing extremely well,” Lemberg said.