Kicking things off

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By Dave Kavanaugh

The bad thing about having a team without a single senior is the lack of veteran leadership, experience and polish one can imagine from such a lineup.

The good thing is that if that young group holds together, there’s great potential for seasons beyond.

In 2008, Robertson’s boys’ soccer team found itself bereft of seniors and took some lumps as a result. This year, however, it’s looking like payoff time.

With the exception of a couple players, everyone is back, and that has Cardinal fans excited about the prospects.

“We have quite a bit of depth,” said RHS head coach Clarence Montoya, “more than ever. It’s the most I’ve had for a team I’ve coached. We should do fairly well. How that translates this season remains to be seen.”

The Redbirds’ top three scorers all return and figure to have a big impact again.

Junior forward Henry Robertson, speedy and a deft ballhandler, scored “around 20 goals” for RHS in ‘08, Montoya said.

Junior midfielder Keen Martinez, considered one of the smartest and most technically proficient players on the pitch, had a goal total in the mid teens a year ago.

And senior forward R.J. McNellis is an athletic, wily veteran who was third on the team in scoring in ‘08.

Freshman forward Jalen Martinez, who had four scores as an eighth-grader, “will see quite a bit of minutes,” the coach predicted.

Joining Martinez in the middle will be all-district junior Isaac Hidalgo (“more of a defensive midfielder”) and the compact, aggressive junior Charlie Armijo. Junior Aaron Padilla will shore up the wings.

Unlike a year ago, there’s no shortage of upperclassmen leadership in the backfield.

Defenders include seniors Tobin Lobdell, Casey McElroy, Mark Hidalgo and Adrian Jaramillo. Montoya calls the 6-1 Lobdell “our best one-on-one defender.”

Senior Clint Brayfield rounds out the defense, starting at goalkeeper for the second straight year. A good overall athlete who’s also shined in cross country, basketball and track, Brayfield has been dependable as the Cardinals’ last line of defense.

“Our six seniors give us a lot of experience and strength,” Montoya said.

Ah, strength.

Mere roster depth isn’t the only net gain this team made in the offseason.

“The guys spent a lot of the summer weight lifting,” Montoya noted. “You can see it. They’re quite a bit stronger ... You see it more on the defensive end ... We’re the ones pushing people off the ball, instead of having them push us off the ball.”

That’s reason for Montoya and assistant coaches Gerald Baca, Ian Williamson and Brian Trujillo to smile.

“We were a little soft last year,” Montoya said.

Time spent in the weight room may also have helped boost the confidence of many Cardinal players, and coaches hope that means their charges will demonstrate more aggressiveness this fall.

Notes: The Cards were to open their schedule Tuesday at Portales and Thursday against visiting Española Valley. McNellis and Armijo went into the week listed as questionable with injuries to the ankle and kneecap, respectively ... While the team has a half dozen seniors, Montoya is also high on his sophomore class and notes that four sophs and two eighth-graders will vie for time on the wings and middle.