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M-CHS soccer leans on seniors in league chase

Rickie McDonald of Montezuma-Cortez heads the ball Saturday, Sept. 2, against Rifle. Rifle beat the Panthers 5-0. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)
First-year head coach Juan Soto inherits strong leadership

For the past several years, Montezuma-Cortez boys soccer has proven to be a menace late in the season as the Panthers overcame early setbacks and developed on-field chemistry.

New coach Juan Soto hopes that a group of six seniors – four of whom saw significant action in 2021 – will expedite the Panthers learning curve as they head into 3A Southwest League play.

A Montezuma-Cortez player controls the ball with his head Saturday, Sept. 2, against Rifle. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)
A Montezuma-Cortez player leaps over the Rifle keeper Saturday, Sept. 2, while charging toward the goal. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)
Myles Larrick clears the ball away from the Panthers goal Saturday, Sept. 2. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)

M-CHS (0-2) opened the campaign with a pair of losses to Bloomfield and Rifle but looks to shift the momentum as league play gets underway on Friday, Sept. 9, with a trip to Pagosa Springs. In their early season tests, the Panthers showed flashes of brilliance, and will look to extend those stretches of quality play over the course of a full 80-minute contest.

Senior Evan Lamunyon sits atop the Panther formation, serving as the team’s leading returner in terms of both goal-scoring and assists. It took the fleet-footed senior less than 20 minutes to collect his first goal of the season in the 5-2 loss to Bloomfield – a contest in which the Panthers led for the better part of the first half.

Classmate Gabriel Crowley anchors a midfield looking to spring Lamunyon and the forwards on the attack, while Isaak Lewis brings a steadying influence at center halfback for the Panther defense.

Class of 2023’s Rickie McDonald, who saw plenty of minutes in a 3-11 campaign from 2021, joins Gadiel Gonzales and Max Howell in the mix of Panthers looking to make an impact this fall.

“This group is full of great personalities,” said Soto of his leadership, “and they’ve been motivating our younger players to develop both on and off the field.”

That youth movement includes a cluster of underclassmen, many of whom have cut their teeth in the opening matches this season.

“They all bring different skill sets and techniques,” added Soto, “and that will help them challenge each other to keep improving.”

A coaching staff that includes Colin Larrick and Bryce Tanner bring their coaching expertise to a program that has been on the cusp of a league title for the past five years.

The Panthers dropped their league opener against Pagosa Springs 7-0 on Friday, Sept. 9.

After a Sept. 13 road trip to Kirtland Central, the Panthers play a pivotal back-to-back series against Alamosa and Pagosa Springs on Sept. 23 and 24, while a pair of matches against rival Bayfield await in October. M-CHS will face Telluride on the road over homecoming weekend on Oct. 1, before celebrating Senior Day at home against Grand Junction Central on Friday, Oct. 7.