Camp Verde High School boys soccer head coach David Miller typically carries a yellow sheet of paper with the current season’s team written on it.
After the 2016 campaign ended in a 2-1 state semifinal loss to four-time defending champion and rival Chino Valley High School, he planned out the coming year’s team on the bus ride home.
What he saw was a 2016 group that was graduating 11 seniors.
But Miller, in his 25th year with the program, believes his team is no less capable of contending for a state title in 2017.
“Heart and the work ethic are hallmarks of our program, and that’s what these guys have,” Miller said. “They support each other really well, they work hard in practice and we have a little bit of that small school attitude. We don’t mind being the underdog.”
Those 11 graduates accounted for 38 goals. More than replacing those goals, the overall depth in the squad is what Miller felt was most troublesome.
“You can’t have that many seniors, and the impact that they had on the program, without missing them,” Miller said. “But we’ve worked hard in the offseason to encourage the guys to touch a ball as much as possible, and we have a good blend of characters coming back.”
This year there are only eight seniors and juniors combined, providing little depth, but the returners they do have are talented.
Anchoring the defense is senior goalkeeper Preston Maynard, who finished last year giving up 17 goals on 83 shots.
“I think he’s the best goalkeeper around, in my opinion he’s a premier keeper in the fall season,” Miller said. “He’s a real talent, very cerebral when he plays the game. He has the talent to play at the next level.”
Another top returner is senior Nate Schultz. He was last year’s Defensive Player of the Year out of the always-competitive 2A Central Region.
This year he will likely be used in more of a center midfield role.
If depth was the biggest strength last year, then the 15 freshmen this year alone bode well for a bright future.
But for now, that small school mentality that the Cowboys have always had is being counted on to carry them through.
“You have to adapt your game, if we have everybody out there and everybody healthy I think we’ll be able to compete with anybody,” Miller said.
Taking on schools twice the size of Camp Verde, like Chino Valley or newcomer Page High School, is not a bother to Miller and assistant coaches Walter Orellana and Edgar Agayo.
“The good news is, they can only put 11 on the field,” Miller said. “As long as they can only put 11 out there I think we can compete with anybody.”
The Cowboys’ first game was at home on Tuesday, Aug. 29, against Payson High School, but results were unavailable at press time.