Last year was a banner year for the Morris soccer team. The Redskins put together just their third non-losing season since the program started in 1999, and they won their third regional title (2009, 2011) in the process.
At the Peoria Notre Dame Sectional, Morris played Morton in a tight game in the semifinals before losing to the Potters, 2-0.
Morris coach David Valdivia said the stakes are going to be even higher this year – this after a practice last week in which he chewed out his team for a lack of effort.
“It seems like every year I have to wake the team up,” Valdivia said. “I don’t know if it’s because its the end of the summer or what. Maybe because it’s the first day of school and they have something else on their minds. It’s easier when they are younger because you just tell them what to do and they do it, but as they get older they seem to have other things on their minds.
“It’s hard because this is such a good team. I want them to succeed. I want them to go to state. I’ve been doing everything I can. From getting them a new field, new balls and everything. I’ve been busting my butt for this team and I just want them to do the same.”
Morris junior Ricardo Del Toro said he agrees if state is the goal, then the Redskins need to start stepping things up.
“We have to get it in our minds every day that we are trying to win state and to do that we have to come every day and come to practice and give it all we’ve got,” he said.
While getting to state is the ultimate goal, seniors Chava Villanueva and Matt Thayer think there are also other things the team should be shooting for this fall.
“I think winning conference would be really important because we haven’t done that yet,” Villanueva said.
“We haven’t won a sectional yet, so at least win a sectional even though we are going for state,” Thayer said.
They are two building blocks that would make a state run a reasonable hope.
“Those are all mountains that we are trying to climb. Last year, we won the Streator Tournament, we didn’t have a losing record, but got to .500, and those were also battles,” Valdivia said. “We’d like to have a winning season and to win conference. What I’d like to shoot for is to see this team at state, but it seems like we might just have to go for the conference. Hopefully a sectional win. But this team has the skill to get to state. To me the only thing they are lacking and that’s keeping them from state is maturity.”
There seems to be a reason for the kind of optimism the Redskins are talking about this fall.
“The way we have started off, we feel that we have technically the best team that’s ever been around,” Villanueva said. “I feel comfortable with these guys. I think we are all technical.”
Villanueva led Morris with 16 goals last year, though the way the offense is set up, there are several guys who can put the ball in the back of the net.
“Chava Villanueva is one of the key players. I see big things from him. There are a lot of colleges that are looking at him,” Valdivia said. “Matt Thayer, I can see him scoring from far back. I can also see Nestor (Rodriguez) scoring, he’s one of the key guys. But you’ll also be seeing Ricardo and Luke Rodriguez scoring some goals. Hopefully this year Nick Borgstrom will also be another one scoring goals.”
“I think we’re going to be a pretty good team this year,” Del Toro said. “Our offense is pretty stacked.”
This team has 13 returning players from last year, including nine seniors.
“We should be ready for the season,” Villanueva said. “We have a lot of seniors on the team and it’s our last season. We’ve been playing together for a while and I think it’s going to be really important. Our midfield is three seniors, me, Matt and Nestor. All three of us have a similar playing style. We all are technical, we can defend and are physical. I think that’s really important.”
While the offensive side of the ball seems to be solid, the defense remains a question mark as the season approaches next week.
“We’ve been playing together since we were in kindergarten, so we pretty much know how each other plays. The only factor being that every single player on the defense last year was a senior. They all graduated,” Thayer said. “Still, we have some good guys who can play and take their spots and hopefully outplay them. That’s what we’ve been hoping for. It’s what we’ve been working on all summer.”
Valdivia said he does not see the situation with the defense as problematic.
“Actually, I’ve been more and more impressed with the defense. They are doing what I want and they understand the concept of the four-flat,” Valdivia said. “If we need to go stopper-sweeper, I will, even though I don’t want to. Every team, like team USA have all of the younger guys playing the four flat. That’s why I am teaching the flat four, because that’s what they are going to be learning at the collegiate level.”
Valdivia said that he has a good idea of who is going to play where in the back end of the field.
“Kyle Monk is going to be one of my center backs but you can put him anywhere except for keeper. Tyler Pletch is a junior. I think he is responsible enough and strong enough to play the other center back,” Valdivia said.
“The guys in the middle are also important. (Jose) Selinas, I already started training him for that last year but he converts into a midfielder and then drops back. The other kid we have been looking at is Kyle Shorter. Initially he was also a midfielder, but that’s the kind of mentality you want. You want a guy who can go up and then come up and play defense on the outside.”
“Our defense needs some work, but I think we can get past that with our passing and speed of play,” Del Toro said. “The defense will take care of itself.”
That in front of returning keeper Brian Vasquez.
“We have Brian coming back from last year and side last season, I think he has gotten better,” Valdivia said. “He improved a lot. He started every game for us last year and has improved a lot. He’s playing smarter. He’s not just throwing himself out there anymore. He knows how to position himself in the box. It’s good that he’s coming back.”
Morris opens the season at 3:30 p.m. Thursday against Lisle at a tournament in Earlville.