The York Comprehensive High School boys’ soccer team has become a competitive force in Region 3-AAAA this season, compiling a 6-8 record prior to its game at Lancaster last Friday.
The Cougars have extended several teams to the limit in closely contested games.
An example of the team’s elevated play was a recent 2-0 win against the Rock Hill High School Bearcats at District Three Stadium.
Benji Amezcua, an offensive force for the Cougars this season, scored a first-half goal off a corner kick. Evan Lewis scored the Cougars’ second-half goal off a midfield free kick from teammate Todd Weatherington, whose defensive play has been praised by head coach Rick Johnson.
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Erick Pacheco earned the shutout in net.
“The program had been down when I accepted the position,” said Johnson, a second-year varsity coach. “The kids are working hard to build the program.”
Johnson said he was seeking more consistency this season but that the players have improved their performance.
“Last year, Nation Ford defeated us 15-0,” Johnson said. “This year, we beat them 2-1. The team is more competitive this year.”
Johnson said many of the Cougars’ key players were sophomores last year. “This year, they are juniors, and next year they will be playing together as seniors,” he said.
Johnson also said that playing together and remaining supportive is a big part of a successful program. “The talent level is improving, and we have good team chemistry,” he said.
Though pleased with the team’s improvement, Johnson said, the Cougars will have an uphill climb against teams whose players compete year-round.
The Cougars were beaten 3-0 by perennial power Fort Mill last week, battling the Yellow Jackets from start to finish.
“Every player on the Fort Mill team is a club soccer participant,” said Johnson, “but we aren’t concerned about it. Our kids play in the offseason, and we’re getting help from the JV program.”
Amezcua, a fourth-year varsity participant, is familiar with the work ethic it takes to succeed at the 4A level. “We work hard and practice hard,” he said. “I am devoting time to improving my passing game.”
Amezcus said the Cougars play hard as a team every game. “We know what it takes to be competitive; that’s why we are an improved team,” he said.
Another key player is junior Buddy Anderson, a two-sport athlete who is also a placekicker on the football team.
“We’re a better team this year,” said Anderson of the soccer squad. “We are paying more attention to the fundamentals of the game.”
Anderson said the best is yet to come. “I think we can finish strong in the region,” he said. “You play the game with heart, whether it’s soccer or football.”
Johnson said he is optimistic about the Cougars’ future: “Our team continues to improve,” he said. “We just need to get over the hump. We’ll get there.”
The Cougars host will host Northwestern at 7 p.m. Tuesday following a week off for spring break.