The good news in local soccer last year was that three programs made the state tournament.

The bad news: everyone — Dalton’s boys and girls and the Southeast Raiders — was done by the second round.

It’s a new season, though, and the slate for area soccer teams is clean — at least for a few more hours, with five varsity games scheduled for today.

Here’s a glance at all eight programs and their upcoming seasons.



Boys



Dalton

The Catamounts’ second-round exit from the state tourney via a 2-0 loss to Chamblee at Harmon Field came as a shock after two straight appearances in the title game.

However, Dalton coach Matt Cheaves thinks his players have done a good job using the loss as motivation throughout the offseason and in early practices.

“Every time we touch the ball, we don’t treat it casually,” Cheaves said. “We treat it as a game situation. If we’re not doing the little things at practice, it’s going to show up in the games, when it counts.”

On offense, Cheaves would like for the Cats — who scored an area-high 80 goals last season — to be even more aggressive. But they’ve been more focused on “defensive tactics.”

“In 2003 and 2004, we only gave up 10 goals each season,” Cheaves said. “Last year we gave up 20. That’s still not a lot of goals to give up, but we want to get that number down low again where we’re closer to getting back to the state championship, being at that level.”

One bright spot for the five-time defending region champions is that they have less turnover to deal with than in recent seasons.

The Cats (17-2 in 2005) have nine seniors, all but four starters are back, and substitute players had plenty of opportunities to gain experience last season.

They’ll be led by The Daily Citizen’s Player of the Year, forward Luis Salazar (area-high 21 goals in 2005), sweeper Adrian Mora, stopper Osvaldo Fraire and senior defenders Tony Ortega and Carlos Franco, among others.

The goal, as usual, is to be the very best.

“We’re going to aim for a state title,” Cheaves said. “There’s not any point in aiming at anything less.”

The Cats open Friday with a 5 p.m. match at Hiram.



Murray County

In his first season with the team, coach Randy Baggett directed the Indians to a No. 4 seed and the region playoffs.

He’s looking for more of the same in 2006.

“Last year we were happy with what we accomplished,” Baggett said. “I thought we should have done a little better. But we were quite happy to make the playoffs. We lost eight seniors, but we hope to make the playoffs again this season.”

One of Baggett’s top returning players is junior Ricardo Jimenez, who earned All-Area honors last season.

Also helping to form the core of experienced players are seniors Luis Rodriguez, Jose Valdovinos and J.P. Preston. However, Preston won’t be with the soccer team until the basketball squad, which just won a Region 7-4A championship, concludes its season.

Sophomore Eduardo Guerrero was a solid scorer as a freshman and returns with that punch.

The key to this season’s success could hinge on finding a goalkeeper to replace the talented Jimmy Tyler.

“Jimmy was just superb last year,” Baggett said. “To be successful we have to solidify that position very quickly.”

Junior Carlos Pacheco is the likely candidate to step in for Tyler. Pacheco didn’t play last season but decided to give soccer a try this year. Freshman Rolando Reyes is another candidate.



Northwest Whitfield

Coach Ryan Scoggins will be looking to the strength of senior forward Jonathan Berrera, who was third in the area last year with 17 goals in 14 matches.

Berrera and senior goalie Edis Krinjic, a transplant from Bosnia, will be depended on to help the Bruins improve on their 5-6-3 record from last season.

“I think we have some good kids returning,” said Scoggins, now in his third year. “Our main strength right now is our chemistry. Skill-wise, we will be a good passing team.”

Scoggins also has four juniors with two years of varsity experience — forward Christhian Dedios, sweeper Hector Holguin, defender Martin Becerra and midfielder Eulogio Padron.

Northwest finished 2-1-3 in league play last spring and lost to Woodland in the Region 7-4A Tournament.



Southeast

With a third-place finish in the region tourney and a first-round playoff victory, the Raiders made progress in 2005.

And many of those who helped steer the ship were underclassmen, which should be helpful as Southeast coach Jamison Griffin looks to replace nearly half his starters.

“I’m real happy and pleased to see the younger players come back,” Griffin said. “The tough thing this year was deciphering who to keep, just because there was a lot of talent in our younger classes.”

With greater options, Griffin expects the defensive-minded Raiders (10-3-2 in 2005) to show more versatility this season on the offensive front, which could be key after the loss of several scorers.

He also believes the team has taken its dedication to another level, one sign of which was players turning out for newly-added morning workouts, which began in November.

“Right now I think our biggest strength is we’re committed to each other,” Griffin said. “We appreciate the talent everybody has, but they really just enjoy playing with each other, and that’s a good thing to see.”

One obvious strength is the return of All-Area keeper David Padilla, who had more than 40 saves and recorded seven shutouts last season.

The Raiders open today with a 6 p.m. match against LaFayette at the Walker County tournament.



Girls



Dalton

The Lady Cats finished third in 7-4A last season as the only local girls team to make the state tourney.

They followed a 3-0 victory over North Atlanta with a second-round loss at Marist, 11-0. Despite the lopsided score, coach Tony Carlson learned a couple things that day.

“Our girls left everything out there on the field,” he said. “Anybody watching the game would have been proud of them ... but that whole scenario got set up because we finished third in our region. We can prevent that if we finish in the top two, and that’s always our goal — to get number one in the region, obviously.”

Carlson said he was proud of last year’s achievements especially because they came from a team that “basically started from scratch,” but he won’t have to deal with that this season with all but four starters back.

One very big loss is Gaby Mendez, who set a program record with 13 goals in 2005.

But there have been good additions, too, like the versatile Cristina Esquivel and defender Rosa Cuna, who’s back after taking last season off.

The Lady Cats (9-6-2 in 2005) open at Cartersville with a 5 p.m. contest today.



Murray County

When Frank Price stepped down as girls basketball coach at Murray County, Traci Rankin stepped in to coach the Lady Indians.

Well, Price was also the Lady Indians’ soccer coach. So, Rankin has taken over those duties as well.

“When I was at (Bagley Middle School) I was an assistant for three or four years,” Rankin said. “I was the head coach for boys and girls soccer last year.”

Rankin’s primary concern this year with the Lady Indians is making up for the loss of 11 seniors from last year’s squad.

“Losing 11 seniors off any team is always devastating,” Rankin said. “But when we had sign-ups, more than 50 girls showed up. It’s taking us some time to sort out our players.”

The Lady Indians open their season March 3 and Rankin is still trying to come up with a solid roster of players.

She is counting heavily on a nucleus of five players — sophomore defender April Goodrich, sophomore forward Geneve Lopez, senior defender Mirella Hernandez, junior defender Reyna Salazar and sophomore midfielder Carmen Reyes.

“We’re going to be young, but we’ll be OK,” Rankin said. “We have a lot of returning players who played last year. They all seem to be hard workers.”



Northwest Whitfield

Despite a 2-10-1 mark last year, Lady Bruins coach Melissa Torbett believes “everything is pointing to us having a much better season.”

Leading the way for Northwest is senior striker Andrea Woodason, The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year.

“Andrea should have a very good year for us,” Torbett said.

Keys for Northwest also are senior goalie Hannah Sissom, a third-year starter, and sophomore forward midfielder Sandra Tapia.

If Torbett needs to fill roster spots, she has a youthful junior varsity squad from which to choose. There are 15 freshmen on the JV squad.

“Freshmen pretty much make up our JV team,” she said. “We have a large crop of freshmen (in the program) for the first time.”

Torbett will get to see how the parts look as Northwest opens its season today in the Walker County tournament.



Southeast

Coach Cathy Hendley makes no bones about her expectations for this year’s squad.

“I expect us to play in the regional playoffs,” she said. “It would be the first time for the Southeast girls to do that.”

In 2005, the Lady Raiders came within one win of securing a spot, but lost to Murray County.

Senior midfielder Mariela Perez returns as one of the Lady Raiders’ top players. Hendley also will count on sophomore defender Janeth Madrigal, who started as a freshman.

A couple of freshmen this season — defender Raquel Mejia and midfielder Andrea Perez (no relation to Mariela Perez) will also figure in the plans.

“I look for both of those girls to start,” Hendley said.

This year’s captains are Mariela Perez, Angelica Carranza and Maria Velasquez, and a lot is expected of them in terms of leadership, the coach said.

“We have a lot of really good talent this year,” Hendley said. “I think we have the ability to do really well in a tough league. Dalton is always a contender. We were very close last year. We needed to beat Murray, but they won. We want to change that.”

The Lady Raiders open their season today against Ridgeland in the Walker County tournament.



— This report was compiled by Larry Fleming, Keith Cerniglia and Marty Kirkland.

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