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Eagles beginning to find the net

Del Oro’s young squad improving on offense, led by veteran Meuser
By: Eric J. Gourley Journal Sports Writer
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LOOMIS — Del Oro head coach Dave Shiro didn’t think things could get any worse after his team scored a meager 28 goals in 17 games during the 2007 soccer season. Then the Golden Eagles mustered only 13 goals in 17 games last year en route to a 4-11-2 overall record — Shiro’s worst in nine years at the varsity helm. They were shut out in their first two games of the 2009 campaign, but have since reversed their anemic offense. Del Oro has found the net 16 times in its last seven games to improve to 4-4-1 overall. “At the beginning of the season we weren’t really finishing and we didn’t put any balls away,” said senior star Casey Meuser. “We’ve been doing a lot better capitalizing on our chances.” A standout in the classroom with a 3.75 GPA, Meuser creates a majority of the Eagles’ opportunities as an attacking midfielder. “He’s by far our standout,” Shiro said of Meuser, who committed in July to play for Division I San Diego State University in 2010 on a partial athletic scholarship. “He’s awesome. He’s just a smart player with such control. You send a ball within his reach, he’ll pull it down and he’ll put it on somebody’s feet.” Kolby Mitnick, a third-year varsity player like Meuser, has emerged as a scoring threat at right forward. “He’s blazingly fast and quick with the ball,” Shiro said. “He cuts and turns very quickly, gets down on the line for us and sends the balls across the net, which is how we’ve been enjoying the goal scoring we’ve had this year that we’ve missed out on in the past.” Del Oro won three games at the Del Campo Jamboree last weekend before falling to Atwater on a last-minute penalty kick in the championship. “We did a lot better in the tournament because we’re finally scoring goals this year,” Mitnick said. The Eagles’ offense was quiet in a 2-1 loss to Granite Bay in the Sierra Foothill League opener for both teams Tuesday. “We know what to expect from Granite Bay,” Shiro said. “They’re always going to be good. They have no lack of talent, that’s for sure.” The Grizzlies used penalty kicks to edge Del Oro in the 2006 Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinals — the Eagles’ most recent playoff appearance. “We haven’t really mentioned league champions or getting to the section playoffs or anything like that this year,” Shiro said. “I think what’s important for us coming off last year is to play each game and when we get off the field from that game figure out what improved and what we need to work on. We still have a ways to go before we can look too far, but I like what we’re doing in the present.” Half of the 18 players on the roster are juniors. Six of those are returners. “There are a lot of returning players on the field who were here as sophomores,” Shiro said. “They understand the game better. There are a lot of guys who, as juniors, stepped onto the field this season with 12 or 14 matches under their belt, which helps them a lot.” Three of the team’s four sophomores also return, including twin defenders Grant and Kyle Benedict. “Both of those guys offer good decision-making skills and both of them are not afraid to get off their feet and lay in a tackle if necessary,” Shiro said. Other contributors in the backfield include new additions Paul Villa, a physical sophomore, and Cole Risse, a quick-thinking junior. Senior Alec Lyons “is one of the better goalkeepers we’ve had in a few years,” Shiro said. Junior Seth Ahlquist, who sports a team-high 4.0 GPA, is a defensive midfielder alongside senior Brian Ortiz. Both have strong distribution skills. Juniors Matt Brennan and left-footed Dylan Clephane are new additions up front on the wings. Senior Andrew Messamore is also quick and aggressive at forward. Junior Kellen Crow is the ultimate utility player. “I can put him anywhere,” Shiro said. “If one of my defenders goes down, he’s the guy going in today. If I need some help in the midfield, he’s the guy going in today. And he’s quick. He strikes a really nice ball. He’s a solid defender. We get a lot out of him wherever we put him.” In an SFL that has produced the last five Division II section champions, Meuser likes Del Oro’s chances. “I think the league’s wide open,” Meuser said. “From what I’ve heard, everyone’s beating everyone. I think it’ll be a close finish.”