Mustangs ease to season sweep of Wetumpka

Caleb Turrentine / The Herald

Wetumpka goalkeeper Zach Grindle has the ball go past his fingertips as Stanhope’s Michol Torres (9) opens the scoring during Saturday’s game at Hohenberg Field.

Despite winning seven matches in each of the last two seasons, the Wetumpka boys soccer team saw its playoff drought extended to its fourth consecutive year. Despite graduating some of its top talent, Wetumpka is set on ending that streak this season and that energy is flowing over in practice.

“The energy is actually higher than I’ve ever seen it,” Wetumpka coach Desmond Knight said. “The guys are excited. We’re still building that culture and raising the level of expectations. We have not been as competitive as we should be but it’s been a slow climb.”

Wetumpka still has plenty of starters returning and Knight said he will be relying on those players to step into leadership roles. One of those is the backbone of the team as Zach Grindle returns as the starting goalkeeper.

“Having a third-year starter back there is pivotal,” Knight said. “We have some new guys on defense but it’s exciting because having Zach back there makes it easier for me to put those guys back there. He gives them a lot more confidence.”

Alex Easley and Jon Tessier return start on the back line but Wetumpka will rely on two new faces to start the season. Two foreign exchange students, Tommaso Martinelli of Italy and Fabian Burmeister of Germany, are expected to take on crucial roles on defense.

Several other starting positions are still up in the air as Knight continues to make tweaks to his formation and find the best fit for each player. Wetumpka will use a 4-4-2 formation with the midfield moving between a flat four and a diamond  depending on the opponent.

“We have some guys that are like a Swiss Army knife,” Knight said. “They can really play anywhere. We can put some defense into the midfield or some midfield guys up top. We’re trying to move pieces around but we have a good rotation.”

Leo Castellanos is expected to move up from defense to midfield and be joined by Brennan Worrell who could move to a more attacking position. Emmanuel Castellanos, Ethan Blecher and Luke Tessier are competing for starting jobs in the middle. Strikers Arthur Davis and Alex Londell return to lead the attack.

“Our No. 1 goal is set on making the playoffs,” Knight said. “That may could change by midseason and we could shoot higher if we are in a good spot but I feel like this team getting the two and competing in a playoff game would be big.”

Wetumpka’s girls ended its playoff drought last season but lost to Opelika, 7-0, in the first round after missing several players. However, it is a new season and Wetumpka has some new goals with a plenty of new faces taking on big roles.

“Our team is just so young,” Wetumpka coach Jessica Holbert said. “The goal is still to make the playoffs but it will be a harder climb. I just think it’s more of a day to day thing because we are trying to figure each other out still.”

Wetumpka has no seniors and just one junior but it still has five returning starters. There will be plenty of challenges but Holbert said it has helped some of the players come out of their shells.

“It’s forcing some of those sophomores to really step up,” Holbert said. “That’s my biggest group and we’re going to need them. They are stepping up and they are going to play some big roles.”

Hailey Holbert is the lone upperclassman and is expected to move from defense to start in the midfield. She will be tasked with controlling the ball but Wetumpka is also hoping to get some help from forwards Kayla Davis and Lana Sexton as it looks for more goal-scoring threats.

“Those are the three I am really pressing and getting them focused because we need them to score,” coach Holbert said.

In the midfield, Morgan Sims will join Hailey Holbert in the center but in a more attacking role while Jocelyn Ziglar and Karen Rosales are expected to start on the wings. Emily Smith is a returning starter but she will move to defense to start at a full back position opposite of first-year player Kamora Thomas.

Madison Milton will take over in goal while Becca Worrell and transfer Gina Macon start in the center back positions.

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.