Sports > Schools
Boys soccer: Coppell opens against nation's best in Florida
Coppell's boys soccer team got its first chance to remove the sour taste left eight months ago by a shocking first-round playoff exit when a veteran Cowboys team kicked off their 2013 campaign Jan. 10-12 at the MAST Tournament hosted by Montverde Academy (Florida).
Facing some of the nation's best, many of which were nearing the conclusion of their seasons, Coppell went 2-1.
The Cowboys opened with an 8-1 win over Tampa Jesuit before coming up short against the host program, 2-0. However, Coppell rebounded in its finale to top Boca Raton, 1-0, behind a goal from Justin Todd.
Boca Raton entered the week as the No. 1 team in the nation according to the Elite Soccer Report while Montverde took over the No. 1 spot on the strength of its wins and the fact it hasn't lost in its last 80 matches, dating back to 2010.
Coppell, now ranked No. 8 nationally, continued last weekend with a trio of wins at the Allen Tournament, including victories over Allen (2-0), Plano East (6-1) and Lake Highlands (6-0).
"We've gotten off to a very good start," said Chad Rakestraw, Coppell head coach. "The tournament was a great experience and was great exposure for us. We got to play quality teams and there were probably about 75 college coaches out there. It was a playoff environment to start the season."
Rakestraw was particularly pleased with Coppell's results given how far along in season the squads from Florida were.
"We are just getting our season going and the teams in Florida are starting the playoffs this week," he said. "It felt good to be out there and I thought the match against Montverde could have even been a little tighter."
A veteran Coppell team has been anxious to get going after coming up short in the first round of the playoffs last year against Hebron. The Cowboys roster includes 12 seniors, 10 juniors and just two sophomores.
"We're pretty heavy on seniors," Rakestraw said. "We have a lot of experience back from last year. Having that great regular season and to lose in the first round, I think the kids would have been ready to play the next week and they're anxious to redeem themselves and prove they can win in the playoffs."
But Coppell knows it's a process to reach that point.
"We don't really talk about winning state," Rakestraw said. "It's definitely a goal, but we try not to talk about it. We want to get better and be performing at our highest level. If we do that, we know what we are capable of."
Coppell's confidence comes from an ability to pressure defenses, in particular with the return of senior Drake Lovelady, who missed last year with an injury.
"We attack really well and should be pretty tough to defend," Rakestraw said. "We have a lot of quickness and have some guys that can really go at the defense. Last year, we were missing that guy that could really put our opponent on their heels. We have that this year with guys like Drake, Chris Madden and Mitchell Parnell. We have a lot of different weapons."
Coppell's skill allows the Cowboys to keep their center-backs at home and push forward with the rest of the unit.
"We feel an attacking offense is almost like a good defense," Rakestraw added. "We want to possess the ball and keep it in our opponent's end."
Forwards include senior Parnell, sophomore Austin Michaelis and senior Jarrett Weaver.
"We have some different options up top and we have some guys that can play different positions," Rakestraw said. "It really depends on the opponent and what we're doing well. A lot of the times we'll just have one forward, but it could be up to three at a time."
Midfielders for Coppell are the senior Lovelady, junior Madden, junior Todd and senior captain Nick Hazelrigg.
"Drake didn't play last year with a pelvic fracture but was an all-district player as a sophomore," Rakestraw said. "He really gives us the ability to get forward on the dribble. Last year, we could possess the ball but nobody could really go at defenders. This gives us a whole other dimension."
Coppell's skill and experience isn't limited to the front, however, as the Cowboys are deep in the back as well.
Defenders are junior Kellen Reid, senior Jacob Tucker, senior Kevin Tovson and a rotation at the fourth spot between sophomore Stephen Tower and junior Emilio Morlett.
"Our biggest strength is our variety of options at every position," Rakestraw said. "We have a variety of players and can play a bunch of different formations. But that is also one of the challenges and we used our first two tournaments making sure we understand the expectations of each formation and to get experience in different roles."
Coppell also has a trio of capable senior goalies in Dante DiCiolli, Dustin Hodges and Josh Jauregui.
"They've been getting equal time so far," Rakestraw said. "I think when he is totally healthy, Dante will be starting more, but the other two can step in just as easily."
Coppell continued its non-district slate Tuesday against McKinney Boyd (results not available as of press time) will play Plano Senior on Feb. 1.
"We need to stay healthy and only having two games should give us ample time to be well-rested before district and to get more training in."
The Cowboys open 5-5A competition Feb. 8 at Hebron.
The Hawks have ended Coppell's season each of the past two years. Also in the district are Denton Ryan, Flower Mound, Marcus and Lewisville.
"I'm happy with the district because I think it is going to be tougher than last year," Rakestraw said. "It's a bunch of quality teams. You have Hebron and Marcus, but Lewisville is already 8-1 this year and Flower Mound and Ryan are strong. It's better top to bottom and that should prepare us better if we get to the playoffs."