The Mendota boys soccer team lost two-time NewsTribune Boys Soccer Player of the Year Yahir Diaz, the program’s all-time leading scorer who led the Trojans to an undefeated regular season and Mendota’s first sectional championship last fall.
That doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare for MHS.
The Trojans return a strong core of experienced players, while La Salle-Peru, DePue-Hall, Princeton and Earlville also return players who have logged varsity minutes.
Here’s a look at each area team:
Coach: David Spudic
Last year’s record: 10-13-2
Top returning players: Giovanni Garcia, F; Brayan Gonzalez, F; Jorge Martinez, D/MF; Rylee Hernandez, D; Seth Adams, MF; Erik Laurrabaquio-Moscosa, GK
Top newcomers: Gianmarco Luna Tejada, MF; Adian Gonzalez, D
Worth noting: The Cavaliers return a strong nucleus of players who have been on varsity for multiple seasons. Garcia, Adams and Brayan Gonzalez are all offensive weapons who scored double-digit goals last fall. Garcia and Adams scored 14 goals each, while Brayan Gonzales found the back of the net 12 times along with recording 11 assists. Laurrabaquio-Moscosa made 146 saves last season. “The work ethic of our team has increased a lot over the past few years,” Spudic said. “Most of our upperclassmen have been on varsity since their freshman year, so they have been playing together for a while. Our team chemistry is great.” Spudic said the Cavaliers’ goals are to finish in the top half of the Interstate 8 Conference and play for a regional title.
Coach: Martin Moreno
Last year’s record: 8-16-1
Top returning players: Francisco Moreno, Jr., MF; Julian Flores, Sr., F; Nathan Harrison, Jr., D; Osvaldo Morales, So., MF
Top newcomers: Gabriel Cano, Fr., F; Salvador Romero, Fr., MF;
Worth noting: The Little Giants return several key players, but also welcome a few newcomers who will make an impact. Francisco Moreno had 15 goals and 10 assists last season as he earned all-conference honors in the Little Ten and Three Rivers. Flores tallied five goals last year, Harrison played a key role on defense, and Morales gained some varsity experience. Martin Moreno said Cano and Romero are “really well-developed freshmen who will instantly bring an impact to the team.” Martin Moreno said the Little Giants look to improve their win total and compete for hardware. “Our strength for this year’s team is we have really good chemistry and just a very good overall team, but also a very young team consisting of mostly sophomores and juniors,” Martin Moreno said. “The kids are very hungry to play and compete every day.”
Coach: Nick Myers
Last year’s record: 23-1
Top returning players: Rafa Romero, Sr., D; Johnathan Cortez, Sr., Wing; Ricky Orozco, Sr., MF; Jasiel Watson, Sr., F; Edgar Arteaga, Sr., MF
Top newcomers: Isaac Guzman, Sr; Iker Landeros, Sr.; Eli Arjes, Sr.; Martin Murillo, Sr.; Izaiah Nanez, Jr.; Kaleb Kleckner, Jr.; Logan Dewey, Jr.; Mauricio, So.; Johan Cortez, Fr.; Sebastian Carlos, Fr.
Worth noting: The Trojans look to continue their recent success with a talented group of players returning from last year’s team that went undefeated in the regular season and won a sectional title to go along with players stepping into larger roles and newcomers expected to make an impact. Romero was all-sectional last year and will anchor the defense, while Cortez (13 goals, 6 assists), Orozco (8 goals, 8 assists), Watson (15 goals, 6 assists) and Arteaga (7 goals, 12 assists) all played big roles last season. Guzman, Landeros, Arjes, Murillo, Nanez, Kleckner and Dewey logged varsity minutes last season but will now move into the starting lineup or larger roles. Martinez “had a great offseason” and will contribute defensively, while Myers said the pair of freshmen bring top-level speed. “We have half of our starting lineup from last year back along with guys who got minutes in big-time games off the bench who will now be able to start and play heavy minutes,” Myers said. “Our guys have been in many big games, so this year we are ready for any type of game/opponent. If we get into tough situations, I am confident that our guys will play well under pressure as we have been there before. Speed and quickness again will be a big strength. Depth is also going to be huge for us, as we have about 18-20 guys who could start and play a lot of minutes.” Myers said if the Trojans “stay healthy and never overlook any opponent,” they have a chance at a state run.
Coach: David Gray
Last year’s record: 7-14-4
Top returning players: Michael Smallwood, Sr., D; Isaiah Sandoval, So., D; Niklas Schneider, Sr., GK; Matthew Sims, Sr., MF; Chase Sims, So., MF; Asa Gartin, So., MF
Top newcomers: Brandon Stopka, Sr., F
Worth noting: The Tigers return a group of players with varsity experience. Smallwood and Sandoval will anchor the defense in front of Schneider, while Sims, Sims and Gartin will be key members of the midfield. Stopka has returned to the team after a year off and is expected to score some goals for the Tigers. Gray said the group of freshmen have “shown good skills in practice.” “Our biggest strength is the feeling we are all a team,” Gray said. “I have been impressed with how the boys have worked together and helped each other get through the first couple weeks of practice. This will help us get through the lows of the season and make us better in the long run.” Gray said the goal is for the team to learn and improve. “It will take hard work and commitment, but I am really excited for what this team can become,” Gray said.
Coach: Larry Heiden
Last year’s record: 14-7
Top returning players: Diego Vazquez, Sr., MF; Garrett Cook, Sr., GK; Griffin Cook, Jr., F; Ryan Browder, Jr., MF; Easton Fruit, So., D; Carlos Gonzalez, Jr.; Trenton Fruit, Jr.; Grady Harp, So.
Worth noting: The Red Raiders are blessed with some of the top returning talent in the Little Ten Conference. However, Heiden knows other teams bring back top-notch players as well. Earlville returns two of the top five leading scorers in the conference in Vazquez (28 goals, 16 assists in 2021) and Griffin Cook (25 goals, 19 assists) as well as “one of the top goalies” in Garrett Cook. Browder and Easton Fruit are once again expected to play key roles, while Gonzalez, Trenton Fruit and Harp are expected to have a bigger impact this fall after seeing time last season. “Our top-end talent at important positions is very strong and can compete with most teams in our conference,” Heiden said. “Since I have started coaching at Earlville, this is the strongest the conference has ever been. The top talent — IMSA, Somonauk and Serena — are going to be extremely tough considering all of them are retaining their best players. We also can’t sleep on the rest either. Every team is tough and getting better. The overall goals will be to compete with those top three teams in season and also compete for a regional title.”