In order to move forward, soccer coaches first must look back. At least that’s what Tim Barmettler does at Gilbert Highland, where his Hawks are the defending Class 5A-I state champions.
Spearheaded by a dominant back line that is led by juniors Sean Miller and Ryan Baker, the Hawks recorded seven consecutive shutouts last season en route to the championship.
It isn’t by coincidence that Highland is back-heavy in its lineup.
“I always want my strongest players in the back line,” Barmettler said. “We start our team from the goalkeeper, then to the defensemen and then to midfield and strikers.”
Barmettler said playing defense is not the job of just the defenders. He said his players understand it takes a team effort to shut down opposing offenses.
“We concentrate on playing team defense and not worrying about who’s attacking or getting the shots,” he said.
“Our defensemen also have to be aware and understand when it’s the right time for them to attack on the offensive end.”
Any number of teams could win the 5A-I state title this year.
But to do so, they will have to go through a Highland team that has, ahem, a solid backing.
TEAMS TO WATCH
Highland: Defending 5A-I state champs are experienced and will be battled-tested come postseason.
Pinnacle: Return plenty of firepower in Kyle Ciliento and Tyler Schultz, and Connor Redd is an experienced keeper. Should make run at 4A-II state title.
Gilbert: Fell just short of state title last season, losing 1-0 to Highland, but should once again be among state’s elite.
Tempe: Lost many starters from last year’s team that qualified for the 4A-II state semifinals, but has strong foundation in place.
Desert Vista: The 2006 and 2005 state champion Thunder are itching to get back to the top.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Finlay O’Neill, Highland, F, Sr.; Berekk Blackwell, Notre Dame, MF, Sr.; Nikolaj Barum, Arcadia, F, Sr.; Ryan Fuertsch, Gilbert, Jr., D; A.J. Goshinska, Highland, So., MF; Rayce Lawrence, Red Mountain, Jr., MF; Derek Freeman, Dobson, So., MF; Kete Meskill, Basha, Jr., F; Brad Mason, Gilbert, So, MF; Xavier Ramirez, Marcos de Niza, F, Jr.; Chris Yoder, Mesquite, F, Jr.; Michael Smith, Red Mountain, GK, Jr.; Connor Redd, Pinnacle, Jr., GK; Shea Draney, Saguaro, Jr., MF; Othello Kossigbo, Arcadia, Jr., F
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Kyle Ciliento, Pinnacle, Sr.: Opponents should expect more of the same this season after he collected 36 goals and 30 assists last season. The Gatorade Boys Player of the Year last season is committed to St. Mary’s University (Calif.).
2. Sean Miller, Highland, Sr.: Can defend with the best of them and scored game-winning goal in 5A-I title match last season.
3. Scott Grode, Basha, Sr.: Stabilized Bears from midfield position last season; program ready to take next step this season.
4. Ryan Baker, Highland, Sr: Defending Fiesta Region defensive player of the year helped hold final seven opponents scoreless.
5. Nick Ayers, Brophy, Sr.: Poised to lead team to top of Desert Valley Region.
Dec. 3-7: Fiesta Bowl Soccer Classic
Dec. 26-31: Dobson Mustang Tournament
Late January: State tournaments (AIA has not set dates)