By Ray Hamill — The Del Norte Warriors are feeling the loss of injured standout Mario Ledezma, but they’re also using it as motivation this fall.
The junior striker and team’s leading scorer from 2022 suffered a season-ending injury just before the opener at last weekend’s McKinleyville tournament, and head coach David Sanyaolu and his players will be hard pressed to fill his sizable shoes.
But the coach is challenging his players to respond in the best way possible.
With a junior-heavy team, the Warriors will likely peak a year from now, but they’ve shown in their first three games that they can go toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the North Coast Section.
They held league favorite Fortuna scoreless from play in their season opener at the Mack tournament, barely losing 1-0 on a second-half penalty kick.
“What I like is they’ve got good team spirit,” Sanyaolu said of his players. “And just the fact they yearn for success. They have the hunger to be successful. The listen and learn.”
Sanyaolu led the Warriors to an NCS championship game in 2018, but they have lost in the opening round of the playoffs each year since then.
“We’ll shoot for it,” the coach said.
To achieve that, and also challenge for a league title, the Warriors will rely heavily on the leadership of their two seniors, forward Pedro Garcia-Maravilla and goalkeeper Isidro Montanez, the latter of whom gives the team an added boost after returning from a season-long injury last year.
Good things are also expected out of juniors Greyson Franklin and Lyon Rigden, who play alongside each in the center of defense, with Franklin moving back from the forward line this season and quickly adapting to the new position.
“We’re seeing great things from him,” Sanyaolu said. “They’re our central pairing and they’re very good players, so we’re expecting good things from them this year.”
Among the younger players expected to play key roles are sophomore midfielders Carlos Daniel Gomez Aguilar and Alexis Ortiz, while sophomore forward Marco Gonzalez will be relied on to pick up some of the slack up front in the absence of Ledezma and he did a good job filling in at the Mack tournament.
Junior Jacob Ramsey also has impressed his coach early in the season on the left wing.
The Warriors are 1-2.
In addition to the Fortuna loss, they beat Willits 3-1 and fell to Fort Bragg 1-0.
Next up, they open league play at Fortuna on Tuesday.