The Verrado High School boys’ soccer team is on the verge of a second consecutive postseason appearance with a 9-3-1 record sparked by a talented young core and the leadership of four seniors.
The Vipers’ final game of the regular season was played on February 5 versus Willow Canyon, but results were not available at press time. On February 1, they lost to Barry Goldwater 2-0.
As of January 31, the Vipers resided in third place in the 5A Desert West Region and 10th overall in the 5A Conference, according to AZPreps365.com. Unsure of his team’s postseason fate, head coach Travis Roux is gearing up for the second postseason of his three-year head coaching career.
“This is my ninth year with AIA, and seeing how everything can change from day-in-day-out, the playoff scenario will probably change five times, but we’re looking to still win the next two games and give us the best seed heading into the playoffs.”
A year removed from a 12-4 record coupled with a first-round exit in the state tournament, Verrado entered this season with just three returning starters.
A good chunk of Verrado’s success this year can be credited to the emergence of a loaded junior class, headlined by juniors Alejandro Mizquez Gil, who leads the team with nine goals, and captain Angel Saldana.
“Other teams have the benefit of having a lot of seniors who take the reins and have been there, whereas a lot of (our) guys weren’t playing on the team last year when we went to the playoffs. But they still know the program and what a defeat looks like in the playoffs,” Roux said.
Of the 17 players on the active roster, 11 are juniors, one is a sophomore and one is a freshman. Headlining the short list of four seniors is three-year starter and captain Price Johnson, who’s been instrumental in anchoring down the Vipers’ back line as a defenseman.
Johnson, who’s started each of the Vipers’ 13 games this season, is optimistic that his last go-round at the state tournament could treat Verrado well.
“I feel very confident in the team as we approach playoffs,” Johnson said. “Throughout our season we have improved on our play and strategy, so we know how to play against some of the better teams in 5A.”
Roux added, “Price is a great leader on-and-off-the-field. He’s definitely a leader by example. He’s a great young man and I’m so happy he’s on the team. He’s definitely helped in holding down that back line this year.”
Ryan Bruggeman, Julian Buenrostro and Anthony Hernandez join Johnson as the team’s four senior players. All four have at least one goal scored and have played in at least 10 games this season.
Last season, the Vipers were spoiled by the arrival of foreign exchange student Khris Bergdahl, a Sweden native who led the team with 13 goals en route to a 12-win season.
This year has allowed a similar story to unfold.
Verrado’s starting goaltender is Remon Drent, a foreign exchange student hailing from the Netherlands, who’s made 58 saves in 11 games in net, holding opponents to just 1.05 goals per game.
The 6-foot-1 Drent seemingly gets better every night, but his goalkeeping tenure got off to a peculiar start, according to Roux.
Drent told the coaching staff in the season’s infancy he had “problems with his eyes,” Roux recalled, and went to the doctors to get them examined.
“He said his contacts were different – the brand was different – and the ball was pixelated when it was in the air. So, finally, he got the different contacts and he can see the ball a lot better.
“I was telling my assistant coaches, I’m glad our goalie can now see the ball. It’s helpful when the goalie can see,” Roux teased.
Of the Vipers’ nine wins recorded this season, seven have been of the shutout variety, a testament to the work Drent has engineered in net.
“He’s very vocal, he’s very aggressive, doesn’t mince words. He likes to tell me the way he’s feeling during practice or during the game. Remon’s been great this year for us. He’s definitely helped us out in many games,” Roux said.
While the Vipers await their postseason fate, they got a taste of it January 29 when they traveled to sixth-ranked Independence and left wearing a 4-1 defeat.
Roux billed it as a good, humbling learning experience just a week before the state tournament begins.
“I thought the goalie made some great saves. The goalie had a great game, their team had a great game. The first half, I thought we matched up pretty well against them. We had a couple lapses in decision-making, and they were able to capitalize.”
Their loss to Independence marked just their third defeat of the season. The other two came at the hands of Casteel and Westview, both highly touted programs in the 5A and 6A conferences, respectively. The three teams who have beaten Verrado this season will make the postseason.
While Roux and the Vipers are locked in on what transpires in the waning few weeks of the season, it’s easy to peek ahead to the future of Verrado soccer. The program boasts a wealth of younger talent, which, on paper, already pencils them as contenders in the 5A conference next season.
On top of this potent junior class, the Vipers also have sophomore Alejandro Parra and freshman Diego Torres getting minutes on the current varsity roster.
“I’m always excited about the future, but I’m really focused on the next two games and trying to get into playoffs,” Roux said, putting any thoughts of future Verrado teams on hold as he’s looking to notch the first playoff win of his head coaching career, and the school’s first since 2013.