New era, same expectations


GONZALES — The Gonzales Apaches boys’ soccer team will look a bit different on the field. This makes sense, with 12 seniors graduating from last year’s squad. But that isn’t the only change.

The “new era,” as Head Coach Greg Ramirez likes to call his 2018 team, will be running a different formation as well in hopes of maximizing the different skillset this team has.

“Last year we were doing the 4-4-2, this year we’re doing the 4-3-3, only because last year we had Santiago [Escoto] up front and Rogelio [Sanchez], maximum speed and maximum control with the ball,” Ramirez explained. “This year, we have speed, we have control, but we’re still growing, so we have to do the 4-3-3 in order to do that so we can have three forwards and have every option available to try to score more.”

Losing 12 seniors, including top contributors such as Escoto, Sanchez and even Jose Flores may seem like it would be a problem. But those alleged “holes” have already been filled by the next generation of Apache soccer players who have experience.

“These players I’m going to talk about, those were all behind those seniors players, and I don’t want to use the word bench, but they were the ‘behind-the-scenes’ players. They were subs,” Ramirez said.

Players such as Anthony Veliz, Daniel Cruz, Suriel Rangel and Antonio Hernandez have already made contributions to the team in the past. The core players are also relatively young, with Veliz a junior, Cruz a sophomore, Rangel a senior and Hernandez a sophomore.

“We only have six seniors,” Ramirez noted. “The rest are, of course, sophomores, juniors and freshmen. I have around three freshmen and the majority are sophomores.”

That’s why despite the team’s youth, Ramirez fully expects his team to retain their district championship and make a trip back to the Region IV-4A tournament in McAllen. The head coach believes he has everything put together, especially after their tough non-district games against opponents such as La Vernia and Canyon Lake — a rematch of last year’s playoff loss.

“That is part of what we like to do, we like to schedule tough teams so we can get a pretty good sight on what we need to do as a whole to win,” Ramirez explained. “For our district especially.”

Indeed, the Apaches are back in a tough district, as they aim to keep their district championship away from the likes of Austin Eastside Memorial who went 9-1-2 last season. The Apaches took first at 10-1-1.

This season, Gonzales has been placed in District 28-4A alongside Austin Eastside, La Grange (who finished fourth at 5-6-1), Smithville (who finished fifth at 3-8-1) and Giddings (who took sixth at 3-9-0). Joining the district will be newcomers Columbus and Caldwell, who are on their first UIL-regulated season. Austin Eastside Memorial was named in the Texas Association of Soccer Coaches pre-season rankings as a top-10 team in Region IV-4A.

“[Austin Eastside Memorial] haven’t lost anybody,” Ramirez scouted. “They are going to be a tough team to beat.”

“La Grange is going to be tough this year,” he continued. “Smithville will be pretty tough. They, from what I’ve seen, improved a lot on their touches. They are going to be tough. Also, of course, Giddings, they are still regrouping, because they lost a lot of people. I don’t really know anything about Caldwell and Columbus. I’ve heard Columbus has a lot of speed. Caldwell, I don’t know if it’s their first year. We’ll just have to see when the time comes.”

The Apaches will have to take advantage of the various skillsets they have on the field. For instance, up top will be Veliz who will be interchanging from center midfield to center forward or forward right wing. Cruz will also be playing forward along with Rangel. Hernandez’s speed has been touted as a key contributing factor for the Apaches.

Ramirez also talked about newer talent that will be taking over key roles.

“Ivan Reyna is one of the other ones that has done a tremendous job coming up as a freshman,” the head coach said. “He will be playing sweeper. If he doesn’t play sweeper, he’ll play center back.”

Julian Matamoros is another player Ramirez touted. He has been named a starter at sweeper. Staying on the defensive side, Martin Romero will continue to play the left side on defense, as he has for all four years on varsity. Then there’s freshman Richard Grimm who will fill the spot on the right side of the defense.

“[Grimm] has room to grow, but his speed and his control makes up for some of that,” Ramirez noted. “He’s just a freshman, but you can’t tell that sometimes on the field.”

There’s a mixture of talent on the Apaches, with a few seniors cementing their spots as well as freshmen and sophomores expected to contribute. No matter who is on the field, expectations are high.

“Top goal is to try to win district,” Ramirez said. “We are the district champs for two years in a row. They want to try to keep that title.”

Those expectations are just reigned down by the coaching staff. The players have it as well.

“It’s not [just] me,” Ramirez said, “it’s the guys themselves. They are the ones that know the expectations we have in this program. I think they know what it takes to not suffer setbacks. They will do whatever it takes to maintain that status.”

“It’s a cycle,” he continued. “One family member leaves and we just get another one. I love it. They pass down the expectations that I have for the team. I’m glad that these guys from the older ones, these guys knew what my expectations were as their coach. I didn’t have to explain that too much to them because they already knew. I’m hoping that these guys will do the same thing to the younger ones, know what kind of expectations I have for the team and what my goals are.”