Carson boys soccer coach Jim Nealis has had almost every component necessary the past two seasons to make a deep run in the Northern 4A playoffs. The one thing missing, though, has been a goal scorer. Nealis thinks he's found one this season.
"We're going to put Carlos Hernandez up top. He's been our top point getter the past two seasons," Nealis said of Hernandez, a senior and three-year starter. "He's been lifting and he's real fit. We're just hoping he can be that guy who can score the big goals when we need him to."
The Senators, who haven't won a playoff game since winning the state championship in 1998, needed a goal from anybody last season. Carson's season ended in the first round of the Northern 4A playoffs with a 1-0 loss to Reed, the same team that has knocked the Senators out of the playoffs three of the past four years. Carson, which finished 11-2-6, scored only one goal in its final five games of the season but still entered the zone tournament as the Sierra League's No. 2 seed.
Nealis is hoping players like Jordan Wilcher, Ernesto Ayala and sophomore Loren Wooldridge, who had an impressive freshman campaign, will also help fill that scoring void. And it won't take long to see if they are capable.
The Senators open the season at McQueen on Wednesday, then play Galena in their home opener next Saturday under the newly installed lights at 7:30 p.m. at the Carson High soccer field. The Grizzlies went undefeated in the High Desert League in 2002.
But even if the goals don't come right away, Nealis isn't worried. He welcomes back essentially three starters on defense, each of which saw extensive playing time last year. Goalie Robbie Liebherr and featured back Dan Burger are the captains of the team and will lead the defense. Dan Pasqual, Brian Arce and Julio Deleon will round out a back four that could be the league's strongest.
"We lost some seniors but we have a lot of guys back who played quite a bit last year," Nealis said. "I'm really impressed with their commitment. They've been practicing really hard and I think things look good. We have a real strong defense, all the guys coming back are pretty experienced."
The midfield is where the biggest holes were opened. The Senators lost all league players in Christian Losche, Kirkwood Harris, Jesse Steele and Eric Libby. But don't feel too bad for Nealis. He plans on putting Royal Good, who was one of the leading scorers on the JV team last season, in the central midfield with Jeremiah Schenzel. Schenzel didn't see a tremendous amount of playing time last year, but he has the skills to do the job.
And even with all the seniors lost, including goalie Sean Carter, an all league player and three-year starter, Nealis still plans on keeping up with South Tahoe. The Vikings, who advanced to the state semifinals last year, lost only a few key players and are the easy favorite to win the league.
"I think we'll be able to compete with them all year," Nealis said. "I wish we could play them more than twice because they play the game the way it's supposed to be played. Reno's always a difficult team to play against and North Valleys should be good again since this is their third year. And Douglas has always given us tough games in the past."