Losing 11 seniors isn’t typically advantageous for a soccer roster. The Derby boys made their first state semifinal in five years and then saw a transformative class depart this past spring. That included last year’s league MVP and six first- or second-team AVCTL-I selections.
Despite the changes, could it still be a building block to an even brighter future?
That door could very well be there for coach Paul Burke as he welcomes back nine varsity players from last year’s 15-6 team.
“We’re going to shock some people,” Burke said. “… We’ve got nine returning who have played significant minutes. We’re not throwing random players on the field.”
Derby will be relying on younger players in key spots, but Burke said more experience will help ease those concerns as the season progresses.
“We probably have a lot more talent coming back than we’ve probably ever had,” Burke said. “It’s getting those dudes to buy in and realize how much hard work it takes to get [deep in the postseason] … Now it’s challenging those efforts and energy.”
They’ll be replacing 64 percent of their goals scored, including their entire midfield.
Now a two-year starter, Saul Munoz has gained notoriety as one of the state’s fastest forwards. The senior scored the second-most goals (10) last fall to go along with three assists.
What will separate No. 19 as he approaches his final season?
“It’s nice when your best player is your hardest worker,” Burke added.
That speed has been matched by added muscle, which Munoz said he has poured hours into this summer. Burke said he’d like to see his senior forward be more aggressive in his attacks, leading to more shots.
It’s part of a plan that Munoz said he’s ready to unleash on Aug. 30 against Wichita Northwest.
“I work so that I can be one of the best players for my team and in our league,” Munoz said. “I want to help this team make it far.”
As experienced as Munoz in the offense is multi-year starter Matthew Young at center back.
The senior was a part of seven shutouts last fall and Burke said he credits the senior for taking an incremental approach and getting better year by year.
“Matt came in and we knew he had all the potential in the world,” the Derby coach said. “He just had to work, work and work at it. He listened to what we said and what his club team said. He got opportunities, did the hard work, got stronger and has played tons of games.”
Teaming up with returning starter Connor Robinette on the back line, Young said his improved vision on the field has been a difference-maker.
“My soccer IQ has grown a lot [since my freshman year],” Young said. “… I look back on film from when I was freshman and passes I should have made, and I know I see the field differently now.”
Who will fill the gaping holes in the midfield? It’s a quandary for Burke, but he said they’ve built depth in those spots thanks to a wealth of youth moving up.
While the first name changes, it’s likely a Simmons will play a critical role in those positions. Scott mixed in varsity rotations as a freshman, but Burke said his minutes will exponentially increase.
Also in that mix is sophomore Caleb Day, senior Omar Vielmas and junior Logan Eickelman. Vielmas brings needed experience after seeing a bulk of his time on defense. Burke also said Eickelman’s frame will suit him well as he now stands approximately 6-foot-3.
“We’ll have those four rotating and we understand they won’t play a full game at the pace we’ve gone at in the past,” Burke said. “… Might be a revolving tree.”
After now graduate AJ Howard went down with a concussion in the state semifinals last November, Derby slid freshman Xavier “Gato” Vaquera in at goalie.
While Burke said it was a tough ask for a freshman, he believes the young keeper is beyond his years at the net. He had six saves in Derby’s consolation loss to Shawnee Mission East.
Mike Self scored three goals last fall at forward and Burke said Self’s consistency is crucial.
“If we can get out of him what we had last year, it’ll be awesome,” the Derby coach said. “We need him to work hard and we know what we’re getting out of him. He’s a hard worker and runs, runs, runs, and [you] can’t tell him to stop.”
Burke said he’s looking to Blake Chadwick to provide depth at forward thanks to his athleticism and speed.
While the season has yet to begin, the Derby coach said there are at least five additional players who have positioned themselves for varsity minutes thanks to a strong JV season and contributing in summer tournaments.
Burke said senior Dylan Hildreth offers options on both ends of the field, while sophomore Andy Densongkham brings “elite” scoring potential.
“He destroyed people on JV last year,” Burke said of his sophomore. “Is his body going to allow him to be an 18- to 20-game guy? He has tons of skill and we’ll need him to grow up quickly.”
Burke was also quick to point out what Caden Miller will offer physically to an already sizable back line with Robinette and Young.
“As a junior, he’ll start,” Burke said. “That kid is the real difference-maker if the midfield does what we think it can. Caden is big, strong and fast.”