Eastern Alamance put together a solid 2018 season in men’s soccer, going 13-8-1 overall, and 10-4 in Mid-State Conference play. And while the Eagles were eliminated in the first round of the NCHSAA state playoffs, it was a solid year of growth and development for first-year head coach Kyle Shave and the squad.
“Last year’s team had a great season, considering a new coach, new system and a different playing style,” Shave said in a recent interview. “I was very impressed with the group and how they responded. I lucked into a great senior class and a committed group overall. I believe that this year’s boys will be looking to improve on that, not just result-wise also identity-wise.
One of the initial challenges for the Eagles this fall will be to replace a potent senior class, which featured key contributors including Alex Kreider, Alex Martinez, Macon Lawrence, Fernando Salas, and Luke Hawks, among others.
“When you lose such a large amount of seniors, it can create an opportunity to distinguish a new identity,” Shave replied. “I think that this year’s group is working to do that but also within the process we have set forth. I think they will play very fun soccer, show some great ideas, but also show their abilities as a team. I’m really looking forward to the season and how this group, varsity and JV compete.
Shave indicated that he was happy with the 2019 seniors on the team, who have stepped up as leaders in the spring and summer months. A total of eight twelfth graders will be looking to guide the Eagles back towards the top of the conference standings, and hopefully back to the state playoffs.
“The senior class is exactly what you could have hoped for with Henry Hohl, Sam Pettigrew, and Evan Morrison,” Shave said. “These boys are great leaders and set a positive tone for the whole group. They have great insight and represent each day what we are working towards with all the players. It really gets better when you have additional seniors such as Braxton Miller, Julian Crespo, Nisarah Akbavi, Carter Johnson, and Chris Guerrero to support them as well. These guys are team oriented and set such a positive example. I’m again, fortunate to have such great boys to lead this group.”
Gustavo Salas led the Eagles in goals with 22 as a sophomore a year ago, and returns this season as a Mid-State All-Conference and Conference Player of the Year candidate. EAHS will be relying heavily on their talented junior to put the ball into the net as often as possible.
“You know, the great thing about Tavo is that I don’t have to have expectations for him,” Shave said of Salas. “Tavo is recognized for his play due to the standards he sets for himself. Not just in soccer but academics and as a person.”
“I think last year, he got to see what he could do,” the Eastern High head coach continued. “And as any great player, this year has come in with a mindset of “‘What else can I add on to this? How can I build on to it?’”
“Tavo is a talented offensive player who really changed his game over the season. At the beginning of the season he scored most of his goals by beating multiple players but at the end, most of his goals came from movement in and out of space. Through his own work, he has opened up his versatility so this year, I think you will see him in more positions to have success, coming some out of the midfield or on the flanks.”
Along with Salas, Shave is expecting big things this fall from seniors Evan Morrison, who had seven goals last fall, Julian Crespo, who added six goals, as well as another twelfth grader, Sam Pettigrew, who had four goals in 2018.
Between Salas, Morrison, Crespo, and Pettigrew, the Eagles are returning four of their top six goal scorers from a year ago.
“I think you will see Evan Morrison really stand out on offense,” he said. “With Evan’s skill set and game intelligence, I see him having a big influence on games. He has all the tools to stand out this season. He is disciplined, creative and incredibly shrewd with the ball, but more importantly, every touch he takes on the ball has a higher intent.”
“A lot of times as a coach, you are evaluating the situations the players are in and how they respond,” Shave continued. “In that, some players create situations that are more difficult for themselves, Evan almost always creates a situation for success. He’s an amazing player to watch perform and with his awareness, I hope to see him in the coaching circles in the future.”
“Sam Pettigrew is a player to watch offensively,” Shave added. “He is another who is clever with the ball at his feet and uses his awareness so well. Because of this, Sam is a player that I use all over the field offensively and defensively. I think that Julian Crespo has looked great so far this preseason with his decisions. Edgar Pachuco, Madi Ceesay and Chris Guerrero will really show their creativity and ability to link up. This group has great instincts for each other and really combine well which works with our style of play.”
Eastern opens regular season play Monday night (August 19) with a home game against Cedar Ridge at Fred Brady Stadium. The match is scheduled to kick off at 6:30 p.m.. The Eagles will host Orange Wednesday night, also at 6:30 p.m., in Mebane.