By Ray Hamill — The preseason has been a pleasant surprise for the McKinleyville boys soccer team, which kicks off the league campaign at home to Eureka next Wednesday.
The Panthers are facing a challenging transition this fall, with 10 players to replace from the spring roster, but head coach Ryne Deppe is encouraged with a lot of what he’s seen from his players so far.
The Panthers travelled to Upper Lake for a preseason tournament last week, tying Kelseyville and losing to Willits, but the performance impressed the coach, especially the second half against Kelseyville.
“In the second half we played incredible inspired soccer,” said Deppe, whose team battled back from a two-goal deficit at the interval to earn a 2-2 tie. “It was good to get some games in.”
Early in the season, however, the Panthers were unable to carry the momentum into the second game against Willits, falling 2-0.
Despite losing so many players from last season, including nine of them to graduation, the Panthers have a lot of newcomers who appear ready to fill the void.
“We’ve got some new guys picking up the slack,” Deppe said. “It’s really coming around. I’m pleasantly surprised and optimistic about this year.”
Leading the way are a trio of players who have stepped into bigger leadership roles during the preseason.
Rocco Previde and Geno Dolson-Gonzalez have impressed early and will anchor the defense, although Deppe admits he may “move one of them up once in a while.”
Up front, meanwhile, talented all-around athlete Logan Maher continues to impress for the school.
Maher, who is coming off a big spring season on the baseball diamond, is playing both football and soccer this fall.
“He’s definitely taking some strides,” Deppe said of the senior striker, who also kicked six points for the football team last weekend, including nailing a 47-yard field goal.
Several other players have also impressed early and are vying for significant playing time as this new-look team continues to develop and evolve.
“Honestly, what’s impressed me the most about them is how quickly they’ve been able to maintain the culture after such a massive, massive turnover,” Deppe said. “We’re quickly coming around and it’s definitely been impressive.”
The Panthers will have 19 players on the roster when fully healthy, not quite enough to carry a JV team as well, although Deppe is hoping to get in some JV games, perhaps some eight-on-eight matchups.
As for the league, the head coach expects his team to be in the mix in what he sees as a competitive H-DNL this year.
“I think everybody’s going to have a chance on any given day,” he said.
The Panthers open at home to Eureka next Wednesday at 5 p.m.