Key kicks keep Bulldogs on top

Brian Tannehill

Holtville’s Luc Cyr (2) kicks the ball as Tallassee’s Clay Johnson (2) tries to defend during a match last Tuesday.

After four straight seasons of losing in the first round of the state tournament, the Holtville boys soccer team wants to get over that hump. However, it’s going to be a challenge this year as the Bulldogs are replacing eight starters including their two leading scorers.

“We try to start fresh every season so we don’t look back too much on what we had,” Holtville coach Robby Broom said. “The middle school and JV teams run the same thing so we just plug the new pieces in and everything should be pretty familiar.”

The Bulldogs hit the practice field for the first time last Wednesday but rain has been a debilitating factor and they’re without five players who are still competing in winter sports.

Broom said the varsity team has just 16 players so it may take some time for the Bulldogs to hit their stride. That would be nothing new as Holtville started last season 0-4 before finishing with a 7-7 record.

“There are going to be some challenges with that but we have adjusted,” Broom said. “It gives us a good chance to work with the younger guys. We’re getting to hit a tournament in February and play a few games early so can get ready.”

Two of the three returning starters will be in the midfield; Luc Cyr and Jackson Hand will pull the strings in the center. Noah Keller and Ryan Ward are expected to take the wide positions.

Holtville is changing to a 4-4-2 formation and Miles Broom and Kaden Masters will lead the front line. Broom played on the wing last season but has 15 career goals and should see plenty of opportunities to add to that.

“We could always go back to the 4-2-3-1 and maybe move some of our experience to the back,” Robby Broom said. “But we can spread the ball out more in the 4-4-2. It gives those guys an opportunity to go 1-on-1 to utilize their skills.”

Holtville still have questions on the back line and Broom still doesn’t know who will start on defense. Brian Tate and Morgan Holt are leading a group of players competing for the jobs.

“We have an uphill battle all year,” Broom said. “We still set the goal of winning the region but the other teams have a bulk of their guys returning. We just have to try to win one half at a time and go from there.”

Holtville’s girls team had six wins last season, totaling the combined number of wins from the three prior seasons. The Bulldogs started practice last Tuesday and coach David Lovering said it has brought some much-needed added energy.

“They were just very excited to get to touch the ball again,” Lovering said. “They were ready to do something as a team.”

Holtville will be tested with having to replace six seniors including the program’s all-time leading scorer Hannah Westbrook. Forwards Leslie Aldana and Kayden Heisler are expected to get most of the time up top but Lovering said it is going to take more than just the strikers.

“We have told them how hard we have to work now without Hannah scoring 15 goals for us,” Lovering said. “They have to challenge themselves to be more offensive minded. It will have to be a team effort to open things up for each other.”

The midfield will play a vital role in opening the play for the forwards. Ana Segarra returns in the middle along with Whitney Culverhouse who is expected to take on a more attacking spot in the midfield.

“I think that will be a little more pressure but they have more experience together now,” Lovering said. “The fact that Whitney and Ana played together on the same club team is good. They will be more comfortable.”

The other two midfield spots are still up in the air and will likely depend on how Holtville adjusts its defense. Madison Reeves and Blakley White started in the back last season but they both could move up to get more time on the ball. Bella Rhodes and Carlie Lanier could see time at defense while Rylee Helus is expected to start in goal.

 “We haven’t done a lot of positioning yet since we just got out there as a team,” Lovering said. “The ones coming back know what we’re expecting and I think we’re going to gain a lot with some younger girls. We’re going to see what we’re made of early on.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.