The Montrose High School boys soccer team began its season this week, but before then, anticipation was at a high to see what this group could do in 2021. And if there was one thing that stood out for Indians coach Cassie Snyder, it’s the team’s conditioning.
“In my time here, this is the most physically fit we’ve been as a program,” Montrose coach Cassie Snyder said. “Most of the team passed the varsity fitness test the first day of tryouts and the work ethic is super impressive to me.”
It’s a motivated group, she added, anxious to finally play after spending months conditioning and preparing. The boys are led by captains J.T. Imus and Aiden Harrell, who return after playing in all 17 games last season. Harrell scored five goals and had eight assists, and Imus served as the team’s center back.
Though somewhat of a young nucleus this season with just two seniors, Imus expects experience will play a role in helping the team find its footing.
“We’re a young team this year,” Imus said. “It’ll be a little rough at the beginning, but by the end of the season, when we get some experience, we should be doing pretty well.”
“I think it just depends on who we rely on as individuals,” Harrell said. “The team is just as important as the individuals, but individuals make the difference. If one player is contributing a lot and he can keep on doing that, I think that’s really important to the team.”
The Indians have a head start, team and conditioning wise. The traditional fall season was postponed to spring, but thanks to the Colorado Soccer Association, a club season was organized for the high school athletes.
The club season offered the players an opportunity to continue playing in some way after spending the summer preparing. Harrell and Imus also trained and practiced on the side to keep conditioning up to par.
“In a weird way, it sort of worked out for us, because we’re really young so we needed that time to develop and it was kind of a blessing in disguise,” Snyder said.
It was an opportune time to build chemistry and get some on-field time, Snyder said, especially after the sudden news that the season would have to wait another several months.
And with the season underway, all the preparation is ready to carry over, though the team might look just a bit different. As Imus and Harrell were on the field earlier this week, a trio of former program contributors weren’t.
Juan Martinez Silva, Leon Valdez and Robert Ramirez, all starters during the program’s previous season, decided to opt out and forgo playing in their senior season. It’s a decision that took Snyder somewhat off guard, as she had high expectations for the trio.
But she’s also aware how weird of a year it has been for everyone, with the pandemic shifting responsibilities and priorities.
“I tell my boys this every year, it’s part of my coaching philosophy — soccer is not the most important thing,” Snyder said. “There’s bigger things — family, character, citizenship, school. All those things are bigger.”
Though the team lost the key contributors, Snyder says the current group has some veterans that can be counted on to contribute along with a solid, young nucleus.
“I’m really excited about the guys that are here,” Snyder said, “They’re busting it every day and we’re really talented.”
Junior Adriel Encarnacion is another player that’s expected to make some noise in this campaign as central striker for Montrose. “He’s been one of the hardest working people in practice every day, made huge growth since last year and I think he’s going to be a big goal scorer for us this year.”
Keeper Brendan Ullmann will look to pile up saves for the Indians, and he already looked sharp in the fall, making a number of huge saves, Snyder said.
The Indians have just a handful of seniors and juniors for the spring season, but a roster loaded with young talent could make strides quickly.
“I think the younger players will be scary when they get to our age,” Harrell said. “If they keep on playing and improving, they’ll be scary to mess with. There’s 10 sophomores and 20 freshmen, some crazy number like that. But that many sophomores is impressive in itself.”
The Indians started the season with a 5-4 loss to Delta in overtime on Monday, but rebounded with a 4-0 win over Grand Junction Central the following day. It will be a busy start as Montrose will play half of its season in the first two weeks (10-game season).
Montrose finished 10-7 in 2019 and were Southwestern League champions with a 6-2 record.
Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press