The last time Nate Berner wore a Moffat County soccer uniform was three years ago.
"I was a little runt then, and I didn't play," he said. "We had a lot of seniors who were good, and I was a freshman."
Berner then spent his sophomore and junior years living in New York. Now, he's back, he's grown up, and he's one of four cornerstones of the 2005 Moffat County High School boys soccer team.
"Nate stopped playing to race motocross when he was here," coach Jeff Hammond said. "He played when he was in New York and has developed a powerful kick, a lot of skill and leadership abilities."
Top returnees Schuyler Hammond Center defender Second-team WSL selection last year will lead in defense Malcolm Hillewaert Sr. Keeper One of the top keepers in the league last year returns to be the top keeper Nate Berner Sr. Stopper/midfielder Returns after two years in New York; expected to control middle Pepe Loya Sr. Striker/forward The team's top scorer last year is more poised this year 2005-06 Boys Soccer Day, Date, Place, Opponent, Time Thursday, 9/1/05, Home, Grand Junction High School, 4 p.m. Saturday, 9/10/05, Away, Glenwood Springs High School, 11 a.m. Thursday, 9/15/05, Away, Rifle High School, 4 p.m. Saturday, 9/17/05, Home, Eagle Valley High School, 11 a.m. Tuesday, 9/20/05, Home, Palisade High School, 4 p.m. Thursday, 9/22/05, Away, Fruita Monument High School, 4 p.m. Saturday, 9/24/05, Away, Battle Mountain High School, 11 a.m. Tuesday, 9/27/05, Away, Steamboat Springs High School, 4 p.m. Saturday, 10/1/05, Away, Eagle Valley High School, 11 a.m. Tuesday, 10/4/05, Home, Glenwood Springs High School, 4 p.m. Saturday, 10/8/05, Home, Rifle High School, 11 a.m. Thursday, 10/13/05, Home, Steamboat Springs High School, 4 p.m. Saturday, 10/15/05, Away, Palisade High School, 11 a.m. Tuesday, 10/18/05, Home, Battle Mountain High School, 4 p.m.
The Bulldogs are going to need the leadership. They have three returning starters from last year's state playoff team. It was only the second time in the soccer program's 15-year history that the squad has made the state playoffs.
Those returning starters are goalie Malcolm Hillewaert, defender Schuyler Hammond and striker Jose Pepe Loya. Throw in Berner at midfield, and each level on the field has a leader. Although experience among the other seven starters is limited, the three returnees were key in last year's 9-6-1 record. Schuyler was named to the Western Slope's second team last year, Loya was the team's leading scorer, and Hillewaert is a three-year starter in goal.
"We should have control of the field up the middle with those four," coach Hammond said. "And I think there are things we can do to control the field laterally."
There are no juniors on the team, which means there will be five or six underclassmen starting. Those five or six won't have a lot of varsity experience to start the season.
"We had a couple of guys go out for other sports, and it took away from what we originally thought this team would be," the coach said. "Our younger guys have the skills and understanding; it's just going to take a little bit for them to find game speed."
Coach Hammond and assistant coach Isidro Quezada Jr. have designed a scheme to work with the strengths of this year's team. They call it the Brazilian Triangle.
"It will utilize Schuyler and Nate's strengths, which complement each other," coach Hammond said. "We think it's a structure that will work well with this team."
The scheme may be designed to focus on the strength of a couple of guys, but the players know that the "No I in Team" focus will have to be intact for success.
"Where we may lack individual skill, we have to make up for in teamwork," Schuyler said.
"We have a lot of speed," Loya said. "We have to use that together."
Loya, Hillewaert and Ham-mond played for El Mexico this summer, and they said the benefits from that play will help their team.
"You learn a lot (on El Mexico)," Hillewaert said. "Our time in a more competitive league only brings our level up."
Coach Hammond said that last year's WSL champions, Battle Mountain, also have athletes on a team in El Mexico's league.
"Our guys had a chance to see that team this summer," he said. "Battle Mountain, Glenwood and Rifle will probably be the teams to beat this year."
The Bulldogs open the season with a test from Class 5A, facing Grand Junction at 4 p.m. Sept. 1 at Loudy-Simpson Park.