SANTA FE, N.M. — The group of players populating the St. Michael’s boys soccer team has not had the opportunity of playing in the state tournament. But even though the team was shoved into the state’s toughest district this season, the chances look promising for the Horsemen.
“I’m encouraged by what I see,” said coach Mike Felderwert. “We have a good mixture of older players, something we have not had in a while. I only have four seniors, but they’re also supplemented by a number of juniors. We’re a much older team than we have been in a long time, with some talent here.”
It’s a good thing because St. Mike’s district schedule is more of a gauntlet with recent championship teams Santa Fe Prep and Sandia Prep, as well as perennial contender Bosque and up-and-coming Robertson.
“I think we’re going to be better than we were last year,” Felderwert said. “We are in a new and very difficult district, (with) probably the better teams in our classification in the state.”
With a 9-9-2 mark last season, the Horsemen thought their playoff drought was done, especially with a win over Taos and a tie against Bosque, but it was not to be.
“We have a very strong six-team district and I expect there’s going to be more than two teams going to the tournament,” Felderwert said. “Our expectations are to be better than we were last year, do well in our district and make the state tournament. These are all goals that we can achieve if we can avoid injury.”
A big chunk of responsibility will fall on the shoulders of senior goalkeeper Isaiah Vigil, who was first-team all district last season.
“Having that luxury is really nice,” Felderwert said. “He will anchor our defensive back line.”
And most of the time, Vigil will be ably assisted by senior center back Hayden Lee, who is in the rather unusual position of also playing wide receiver for the Horsemen football team.
It’s a true juggling act for Lee, Felderwert and St. Mike’s football coach Joey Fernandez. For instance, Lee will be with the football team tonight when it plays at Portales, then hightail it to Taos to join the soccer team Saturday for the remainder of a tournament there.
“He is one of those athletes that Joey and I share,” Felderwert said. “He’s a busy guy and he’s a great athlete. We have to be conscious of his work load and balance things out, but Joey and I have been able to do that. He’s a great athlete with a great attitude.”
Forward Justice Johnson and defender Christian Farrar round out the senior group of leaders.
Big things are expected up front from Johnson in particular, Felderwert said.
“He only scored seven goals last year, but I feel he’s poised to have a much better season in terms of goal production,” the coach said.
Johnson will feel that scoring burden more than usual early in the season as the team’s leading scorer from a year ago, Esteban Rigales, is going to miss some time with a sliced finger.
While Felderwert tinkers with the lineup to find some additional offense early, it’s a nice feeling knowing Rigales, who had 15 goals and eight assists as a sophomore, will be returning to give the team added punch.
Defense will be the challenge as there will be several players testing out the backline for the first time.
“I think we’re going to score goals this year,” Felderwert said. “The question is how well can we defend. The rest of our defensive backline are all new to that particular position. They’ve been on the varsity team, but they’re moving to the backline. That’s why it’s nice to have the luxury of having a senior goalkeeper like Vigil because he might be seeing a lot of shots.”