Gustavo Guzman

Lizi Arbogast / The Outlook Stanhope Elmore's Wilder Menjivar (19) will move into a center back spot this seaosn.

After its fifth consecutive season of winning at least one playoff match, the Stanhope Elmore boys soccer team will be faced with one of its biggest challenges under coach Johanna Angelo. The Mustangs graduated15 players off last year’s team including team captains Rigan Stewart and Cristo Rocha along with leading scorer Maicol Torres.

“We’re trying to make things a little bit more simple,” Angelo said. “We want to give the new guys specific roles so they can understand things better.”

Despite the big turnover, the Mustangs are still focused on accomplishing a lot. Angelo was hesitant to set a level of expectations for the new team.

“Expectations and reality are never found in the same place,” Angelo said. “We just have to focus on what we need to get done on the field and we’ll figure it out as the season goes on.”

Stanhope will be relying on its few returning players who are expected to take on big roles for the Mustangs. Fortunately for Angelo, the returning players fill key positions for the rest of the team to build around.

Dylan Presciti and Wilder Menjivar got plenty of minutes on the back line last season and are expected to be starting center backs. Arly Ramirez and Gustavo Guzman will play right in front of those defenders, taking up the center midfield spots in Stanhope’s adjusted 4-4-2 formation.

“That’s our backbone and it gives me a lot of confidence,” Angelo said. “We’re trying to build around those guys and use them as stepping stones. They look even stronger this year so we just have to bring everyone else up to speed. That’s our focus right now.”

The Mustangs will have new faces in most other positions. Ethan Schaap should start in goal while Gabe Myers, Julian Bloomquist and Curtis Greenlee are competing to join Presciti and Menjivar on the back line.

Newcomers Bryson Stubbs and Robert Phillips could make some noise on the front line along with Spanish foreign exchange student Luis Sanchez. While the Mustangs have to replace a majority of goals scored from last season, Angelo is hoping they will not have to rely on just one player to get it done.

“The goal is not to get someone but trying to get the team to do it,” Angelo said. “We want to be more equal in our roles and how we work together. I don’t want to rely on anyone in particular but rather rely on the buildup and the structure of our play.”

The girls team will be under the direction of new coach Jacob Sowell who takes the reigns after two years as the JV boys coach. The Mustangs are coming off a three-win season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but Sowell said that did not stop the returning girls from getting excited for a new year.

“The girls are really buying into my philosophy,” Sowell said. “They are coming together and trying to establish that team mentality. The past is the past and we can’t do anything about that so they’re ready for redemption.”

Sowell will also be faced with the challenges of replacing a big senior group but he said the new group of leaders has made the transition easier for the Mustangs. Leading the way is senior Victoria Cortes who will return as a central midfielder.

“She has really stepped up,” Sowell said. “When she gets on that field, it’s all business for her. She is the voice out there and I have talked to her about needing to command her troops.”

Cortes will be joined in the midfield by Khloe Jones and attacking midfielder Madison Alexander. Ashley Brantley and Averie Jones are also expected to get playing time on the wing in Sowell’s 4-4-2 formation.

Amairanys Urbano returns as a starting striker and she will likely be joined by Bella Brown up top. Sowell said Alexander and Joanie Patton could also see time at forward.

On the defensive side, Stanhope will be led by returning starter and captain Valeria Lopez who will play in front of second-year goalie Anna Dickson. Katie Moses will take on a starting role on defense while newcomers Paola Alvarez and Mariana Pianessolli should fill out the rest of the back line.

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.