When Trinity Classical Academy boys soccer head coach Dave Norton began the 2019-20 season, he understood that the team was going to struggle in a rebuilding year, but was giddy about the future years to come.
Losing three key seniors, Nolan Kulp, Ben Wexler and Andrew Dever to graduation, the Knights not only had to replace three of the team’s four captains from a year ago, but they also lost the majority of the team’s scorers.
Dever, Kulp and Wexler accounted for 89% of the team’s goals last season or 31 of the 35 goals scored and Norton had some doubts about the team’s offense moving forward.
“They were great leaders for the team and the rest of the team looked up to those three,” Norton said.
After Trinity’s starting goalkeeper Tyler Griesi went down in the first game of the season with a broken hand, Norton’s concerns turned to defense.
But when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Comprised of 10 underclassmen and 10 upperclassmen, the Knights’ roster is undeniably young, but that hasn’t hindered players from stepping into bigger roles this season.
Sophomore defender/goalkeeper Diego Fu, the backup goalkeeper at the start of the season, was thrust into the goalie position with Griesi going down and has filled in admirably.
“He has done a great job, but I prefer him out on the field,” Norton said. “I could use him out on the field, but you have to do what you have to do.”
Chad Mitchell, Edgar Romero and Maxton Gould return from last year’s team and offer leadership and determination to the younger Knights.
Mitchell finished last season as the Knights’ third-leading scorer from a year ago, but with the team’s needs, has moved back to the center-mid position and has become more of a facilitator assisting on four goals this season. He had six total last year.
“It’s also been a little bit of a learning curb for him at the position, but I think he has filled in nicely there,” Norton said of Mitchell.
Two unlikely players, freshman Mario Bethke and junior Joey Haro have picked up the scoring slack and are tied for the team lead with six goals apiece.
Haro, who played on the Knights’ backline last season, did not record a single point the entire 2018-19 season and was thrust into a more attacking position and has flourished.
“That’s been a big surprise,” Norton said of Haro’s scoring abilities. “I had Joey on the backline all of last year and with the struggles that I was anticipating offensively, he has the ball skills to score. I tried him in the midfield a couple of games and he did well. He scored one or two goals and got that appetite to want to score, so we moved him up top. He’s been capitalizing and making things happen.”
Bethke, who was not on Norton’s radar to begin the season, has shown flashes of greatness with his innate ability to score in his first year playing at the varsity level. He is second on the team behind Haro with 12 points.
“In fact, I saw him at one of the first practices of the season, he doesn’t look like a freshman with a bigger build, and I asked him, what year he was in and he replied a freshman. That’s why I haven’t seen him around,” Norton said. “ I could tell that he kind of knew what he was doing, but kind of not. If he gets out in the open, he’s going to shoot bury it. His first response is to shoot, he doesn’t pass a whole lot which is fine with me. If I put him up top I want him to have that first instinct to shoot.”
Trinity is currently 4-10-1 overall and 1-5 in Heritage League play and snapped a four-game skid after Gorman Learning Charter forfeited their game on Wednesday.
The Knights have a crucial rematch against Santa Clarita Christian School at 3 p.m. on Tuesday.
“I’ve been having a lot of fun even though we are not putting up the numbers. We are shooting to be successful in other ways and I’m proud of them,” Norton said. “Hopefully, (our standings) will change with our game against SCCS on Tuesday.”