Maize boys soccer improves defense first
When graduation left a gaping hole in the Maize boys soccer defense by taking every 2012 starter, coach Jay Holmes knew he’d have to rectify the situation with massive changes.
During a summer game in Salina, with the defensive woes much clearer, Holmes approached Sage Chaffin about moving from midfield to defense.
It was a bold question posed to a senior who had only ever played forward and outside midfield during his career.
“I was a little bit hesitant,” Chaffin said. “I thought, ‘OK, it’s just for one weekend.’ But after playing the back for a while, I really like it now.”
Chaffin’s defensive role is critical for Maize to get deeper into the postseason. The Eagles desperately want to avoid a repeat of 2012’s season, which ended in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs.
“I have a need for leadership back there, and he’s really stepped up and is ready to play that role for us this year,” Holmes said. “… He’s always been defensive oriented in how he plays midfield. He’ll transition well, and he brings a lot of pace back there.”
Chaffin, who is quick and athletic, has taken steps to improve his defensive play, including gaining weight.
“I’ve been working out, trying to put on some weight so I don’t get knocked around on the defense because I’m the back line now,” Chaffin said. “I have to figure out the angles I need to take. I can’t overcommit and he goes right by me, and we get scored on.”
Holmes considers the defensive holes to be opportunities for other players, including Brett Combs, a 6-foot-4 junior, who takes over at goalkeeper.
There’s some freshmen who could move into the lineup, as well as sophomore Ben Garrison and senior Josh Benavidez, who played junior varsity last season and is someone Holmes expects to step in and perform well.
Fewer questions exist offensively.
The midfield is strong with seniors Kevin Combs and Caleb Wilcox, and the rest of the offense returns, except for Angel Diaz, who suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury over the summer.
“(Combs) is just one of the most technical midfielders I’ve seen around in a number of years,” Holmes said. “And Caleb brings a physical presence in the midfield, does all the dirty work, wins 50-50 balls and helps to generate the attack. They complement each other well.”
Wilcox and Combs also do well on counter attacks.
“That’s where we’ll be our strongest. When we take the ball from the other team and they’re not full set to defend, then we have a chance to go forward with our speed and try to exploit their weaknesses and score off it,” Combs said.
The offense should be able to take some pressure off the defense.
“We can win a lot of 50-50 balls, keep possession,” Wilcox said.
At forward, Alan Sanchez and Connor Holmes can both score.
“Sanchez played quite a few games for us as a freshman, and he presents a lot of challenges for teams because he’s quick and tenacious up top. He’s a natural goal scorer. He’s not a very big kid, but he is lightning fast and skillful.
“Connor brings size and strength. He’s just a physical player. Connor will hopefully win more balls out of the air.”
If the season plays out like Jay Holmes expects, watch for a much tougher team come postseason.
“I think we’re going to be the type of team that will continue to improve throughout the season,” Holmes said. “It will be a learning curve for us to some degree in the back. Hopefully in the middle of the season, they’ll be able to jell and develop chemistry and play at a high level.”