A young Payson boys soccer season has enrolled in the school of hard knocks this season, gaining experience the hard way.
Unfortunately for the young, hardworking team, they’re playing in the shadow of last year’s veterans who reached the state semifinals and twice tied three-time defending state champion Blue Ridge, which went on to claim a fourth consecutive crown. The first of those ties snapped the Yellow Jackets’ 57-game winning streak.
But senior leadership was a big part of the 2012 success.
This year the team’s rebuilding, with only three players with varsity experience. Two starting seniors have never played varsity before.
So as the players struggle to master their position, the team’s off to a 1-3-1 start.
“We’re young,” head coach Chris Avakian said. “We graduated 16 seniors last year. We’re going to have growing pains, but we’ll get through it.”
Show Low beat Payson 4-0 in the season opener in Payson on Sept. 11. Payson then went 1-2-1 in the Show Low Invitational last weekend. The Longhorns tied Grand Canyon 2-2, lost 5-1 to Snowflake, beat Holbrook 3-2 and lost 6-1 to Snowflake.
Avakian said the team gained valuable skills in the early-season tournament.
“It was a good learning experience for them,” he said. “With a young team, it’s good to come out and get games before we start league play.”
The coach said defense is the team’s strength.
“It’s a defensive-minded team,” he said. “All around, they have the heart and they don’t quit. Even when we’re down by a couple of goals, they don’t quit. They keep fighting until the end.”
Avakian said the goals are simple. “Improve steadily, beat the teams we should beat, get to the playoffs and then anything can happen,” he said.
The Longhorns return to action at Camp Verde at 7 p.m. Thursday and play at Chino Valley at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The Horns handed Chino Valley its only non-tournament loss last year and knocked Camp Verde out of the state tournament.
“They’re going to be out for revenge,” Avakian said of the Cowboys and Cougars.
The team is back in Payson with a game against Snowflake at 7 p.m. Sept. 26 at Rumsey Park.
Junior Felix Cruz and sophomore Saul Solis scored the goals in the tie with Grand Canyon. Senior Cody Shepard had the goal in Friday’s loss to Snowflake. Junior Taylor Wallace had two goals and sophomore Gerardo Moceri one in the win over Holbrook. Junior Trevor Clawson had the lone goal in the final tournament game against Snowflake.
Clawson, Cruz and Moceri are the varsity veterans. The roster also includes senior Austin Armstead; juniors Francesco Cacia, Taylor Wallace, Jesus Robles, Kenny Ayres, Davin Lozario, Jesus Carrasco and Christian Osorio; sophomores Gabe Hernandez, Josh O’Connor, Tyler Porter, Tanner Dendy, Nathan Cluff and Jacob Avakian; and freshmen Dave Bullard, Travis Petefish, Dalton Perked and Daniel Cluff.