Captain Shreve boys soccer coach Stephen Slack admits that the Gators probably have four or five of the top 10 players in the area.
But that’s not why the Gators (15-0-1, 9-0 Division I District 1) are unbeaten with three regular season games left, according to the first-year Shreve coach who took a year off from soccer after leading the Loyola program for seven seasons.
Andrew Doughty leads a talented bunch of offensive-minded forwards and midfielders, but Slack says it’s been the growth of his less experienced backline that’s been key in Shreve being a top 10 team in the state instead of just one of the top area teams.
“When I started, I looked at our group and we had four players in the backline that don’t play soccer year round,” Slack said. “We had to protect and grow the backline, but they’ve more than passed my expectations.
“(Seniors) Shawn Stanford and Ecotry Fuller have been great back there. Those two kids are about 6-foot and can win 99 percent of the balls in the box. We’re a defensive-minded and a counter-attacking team, and other teams don’t know how to break us down.”
Shreve, which sits at No. 10 in the latest Division I coaches poll and No. 11 in the power rankings, has three regular season games left starting with Southwood (3-7, 1-7) on Monday. The Gators play Airline (10-5-2, 4-2) twice with the first meeting on Thursday and the second Feb. 4. The Gators may also play a rescheduled game with Loyola.
Slack said an unbeaten regular season isn’t the end goal, rather a deep playoff run for a team that lost on the road in the first round of this past season’s playoffs as a No. 17 seed.
“I didn’t envision that (an unbeaten season) ever,” Slack said. “(Caddo Magnet coach Radi Baltov) always has a very quality bunch, Airline (a quarterfinals team) lost a tremendous amount of players, and Byrd is really good but really young.
“I never envisioned it, but looking back on the talent we have, we’re never out of the picture.”
When opponents do get frustrated and start taking more risks to break through a compact Shreve defense, that’s when the equivalent of a soccer fast break takes place.
Doughty, junior Chad Usry, junior Nick Hammond and sophomore Hardy Hall can create and finish plays on the offensive end.
“Andrew Doughty may be the best player in the city with his combination of athletic ability, soccer intelligence and skills,” Slack said. “He’s scored some important goals.
“Usry and Hammond will probably both be playing in college at the Division II level. Hall is a defensive midfielder that can distribute the ball throughout and play it to others’ feet.”
Usry has scored a team-high 15 goals to go with 10 assists; Doughty has 14 goals and eight assists; Hammond has 13 goals and 10 assists and Hall has 10 goals and 11 assists. Senior Nick Zagzoug gets in on the action with four goals and six assists as Captain Shreve owns a 61-10 goal differential.