Last updated: August 19. 2014 6:35PM - 521 Views
By - eingles@civitasmedia.com

Sacred Heart senior goalkeeper Mason Kelchner makes a stop during practice Tuesday at Clover Dell Park. Kelchner will see some playing time at forward this year while splitting time with freshman Sebastian Aguero in net.
Sacred Heart senior goalkeeper Mason Kelchner makes a stop during practice Tuesday at Clover Dell Park. Kelchner will see some playing time at forward this year while splitting time with freshman Sebastian Aguero in net.
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It took two overtimes, one of the best teams in the state and gale-force winds to knock Sacred Heart out of the Class 1 boys soccer tournament in 2013.

In the state quarterfinal at Clover Dell Park last November, Springfield Catholic beat the Gremlins 3-2 in double overtime. Springfield Catholic would go on to beat St. Pius X in the semifinal before falling in the state championship game.

Now Sacred Heart looks at that loss to the Irish as motivation entering the 2014 season.

“That kind of loss stays with you, even though it was so long ago,” said senior center back Garrett Strange. “Two years in a row (losing) in the elite eight, we don’t want that to happen again.”

Strange leads a defensive unit that lost Sho Saito and Ky Oh from last year’s team. Chris Mergen moves back from midfield to fill one of those spots at center back. On the outside, three different players are in the running. Returning players Jin Jung, Brandon Volcko and Devon Grose will see playing time as will freshman Teagan Trammell.

“We’re still in a real fortunate position to where we’ve got guys who are experienced stepping into the roles, we’re not having to bring in someone brand new,” said coach Travis Cooper. “They’re all familiar with the system that we’re playing.”

That system is based on the one used by Arsenal. Cooper installed it prior to last season and immediately saw results as the Gremlins limited opponents to an average of one goal per game while shutting out teams 12 times.

“The basis of the system is now permanently instilled,” Cooper said. “Now we’ve started adding the twists and the turns to that system. It’s going well.”

Chance Spangler, Will Prenger and Max Martin return to lead a solid midfield. Grose will also see playing time there as will Kolin Brace, returning to soccer after playing football.

“Our center mids didn’t change at all,” Cooper said.

A new goalkeeper is paving the way for a change at forward. Freshman Sebastian Aguero will split time in net with senior Mason Kelchner, allowing Kelchner to play forward.

“Both of those guys are very capable of stepping up at forward,” Cooper said. “Mason will probably move up for some games and Sebastian will play forward some.”

The other forward spot is held by returning senior Brandon Cooper, an all-conference and all-region player in 2013 who scored three goals in a sectional win over previously unbeaten Laquey.

He comes into 2014 as the veteran presence on a team that scored 142 goals in 23 games last year.

“We’re just going to work for our opportunities, communicate,” he said. “It’s more determination than anything.”

Jimmy Villalobos graduated and the Gremlins don’t have that big, physical playmaker this season, but they will look to adapt.

“Jimmy liked to play one-on-one quite a bit and at times it worked out, at times it didn’t,” Travis Cooper said. “Our system of play is really designed to play as a unit. We’ll change a little bit, but we’ve still got a lot of speed up top.”

Brandon Cooper comes into 2014 bigger and stronger than he was a year ago, having spent much of the offseason in training. Now he also steps into a leadership role.

“We just try to bring the best attitude we can,” he said. “Bring the team together and hopefully we’ll get some W’s out of it.”

Sacred Heart comes into camp with 27 players, allowing the Gremlins to field a full varsity and junior varsity, something they have not always been able to do in the past. With more than a dozen players back from last year’s varsity squad, it’s helping the younger players grow into the program.

“It gives some of these older guys a little more of a chance to step up and be a mentor to some of the younger players,”Cooper said. “It takes some of the pressure off those freshmen coming in.”

The Gremlins open the season at the Barstow Tournament on Tuesday.

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