In the mix: With veteran leaders and talented immigrant rookies, Summit High soccer eyes state tourney | SummitDaily.com

In the mix: With veteran leaders and talented immigrant rookies, Summit High soccer eyes state tourney

It's been four years since the Summit High School boys soccer team qualified for the Colorado 4A state tournament. Though four years may not seem like a long time to those outside the program, 2014's 15-2-1 record and appearance in the state tournament quarterfinals may as well be a part of a different generation for players on the 2018 Summit varsity team.

The squad's leading returning seniors, including striker Farid Infante, midfielder Evan Wolfson and center back Peter Haynes, were middle school students at the time. After three losses over the final four games of last season dashed the Tigers' 2017 state tournament hopes for the third consecutive year, head coach Tommy Gogolen feels his team is ready for a return in 2018.

"We kind of fell off the wayside in the last couple of games and one of the graduating class's goals was to make the state tournament," Gogolen said at practice Monday, the team's sixth of the summer. "Making the tournament is quite an accomplishment. You have to be one of top 32 schools in the state and that's a tough feat. It's difficult to do."

With 14 seniors and five juniors returning for the 20-man varsity squad, this edition of the Summit Tigers is entrenched with veteran leadership beyond just Infante, Wolfson and Haynes. There are also proven contributors such as senior defenders Michael Sandoval and Thomas Ryckman and forward Ismael Valenzuela. Altogether, the Tigers should field a cohesive, tested core of starters. They'll pair with junior first-year goalkeeper Chris Lopez to anchor the team's starters.

LISTEN: With a state tournament berth the goal, Summit High School boys varsity soccer players preview the 2018 season

The Tigers lost leading offensive star Conor Craig and his goal-a-game average from last year's team, which went 8-7 and 6-6 in the 4A, to graduation. Western Slope league. Summit does, however, return its four other top goal scorers from 2017 in the senior star Infante, the midfield stalwart Wolfson, Valenzuela and junior Saul Daniel Enrique Munoz.

Of the 19 upperclassmen on the roster, some are actually rookies themselves. Gogolen believes several of them will contribute regularly throughout the season.

The team hopes its veteran talent and experience will pair well with those several talented newcomers, mainly Summit High senior and first-year varsity soccer player Hamidou Ndiaye. The native of Senegal attended Summit High School last year but did not come out for the team until this summer's tryouts last week, Gogolen said. He is one of a couple of newcomers to the team — including the strongly built and athletic junior Maschelle Kepple — who are now members of the program after immigrating to Summit County from abroad.

Kepple is a native of Jamaica who could easily be mistaken as one of the biggest members of the Summit High football team. At practice on Monday, Gogolen was encouraging the junior to be more precise with his touch when sealing off defenders with his back to the goal before attempting to uncork efforts on the net.

During that same scrimmage session, it was Infante's trademark jitterbug-speed and deft touch that stood out. Infante's penchant for the back of the net led the team with 13 goals last year.

Once again, Gogolen anticipates his squad playing a fast-paced brand of soccer that emphasizes quickly advancing the ball to the upper third of the field. Just like last year, a connection between Haynes directing the team's form from the back, to Wolfson orchestrating things in the midfield along with Infante and Valenzuela up front should prove fruitful for the experienced Tigers. But in Ndiaye, Summit suddenly has another midfield variable to pair with "offensive engine" Wolfson, as Gogolen described him.

During Monday's intra-squad scrimmage, the senior Ndiaye certainly showed off his on-ball skills, calmly possessing the ball and finding teammates with confidence several times. But as the team is just six practices into their campaign, Gogolen knows it will take more preparation and in-game experiences for this mix of veterans and first-timers to play at their best together.

"I could not be more excited about the diversity we have on our team," Gogolen said. "All the way from Jamaica to Senegal to the kids who have come from Mexico, I think it's really special and I think the kids are really excited about it too."

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Summit boys soccer

2018 home games

Thursday Sept. 6 vs. Salida 6 p.m.

Saturday Sept. 15 vs. Palisade 11 a.m.

Thursday Sept. 20 vs. Steamboat 6 p.m.

Saturday Sept. 22 vs. CS Christian Academy 11 a.m.

Tuesday Sept. 25 vs. Eagle Valley 6 p.m.

Tuesday Oct. 2 vs. Battle Mountain 6 p.m.

Tuesday Oct. 9 vs. Glenwood 6 p.m.

Saturday Oct. 20 vs. Rifle 11 a.m.