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Hays High soccer begins season today

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The Hays High School boys' soccer team was set to open the 2014 season this afternoon at Garden City High School. The last time the Indians made the trek south was in their final Western Athletic Conference game of the 2013 season, a 9-0 loss to the Buffaloes on Oct. 22.

The juniors and seniors on this year's squad --  and there are many -- remember not too fondly the dismantling put on them by Garden City last season, a loss that ended their WAC season at 1-7, part of a 7-11 overall record.

But with a new coach and a new formation for 2014, the Indians are hoping there have been enough changes that history won't repeat itself.

"That was a huge setback for some of the kids. I just don't see that happening this year. I really think we can make a game out of it and surprise Garden City," first year HHS head coach Jim Maska said. "I think the kids can handle it if they come mentally prepared and believing in what they're doing. I think we can give Garden City more than they reckoned."

Maska was hired as Hays High's head coach in July, replacing Saul Hernandez, who resigned to take a teaching position in Liberal after just one season guiding the Indians. Maska, a 1983 Hays High graduate, spent the last two seasons as an Indian assistant coach and 14 years coaching within the Hays Soccer Club.

The changes aren't vast with Maska going from assistant to head coach, but there are enough of them to help this year's team forget about last season's struggles.

"I'd say the main thing about him is he just wants us to buy in to what he's saying," senior defender Logan Renz said. "The whole mood of the season is if you just buy in to what he's saying. He's got good points and just makes sense if you go all in."

The most noticeable difference will be the formation. Last season the Indians played primarily in a 4-4-2 setup, but will move to a 4-5-1 formation in 2014. The main difference between the two formations is the loss of one forward to the midfield.

The Indians' offense this season will feature only one true striker -- senior Nathan Romme -- and five midfielders, with some of them playing a hybrid role as attackers on offense.

Key to the offense will be replacing the scoring production of graduates Jordan Windholz and Lane Clark, with the duties falling to Romme and senior Kyler Leiker, who will play one of the attacking midfielders in the new offensive formation.

"It helps the defense out, but also if you start attacking you are in the middle and you can counter-attack better," Romme said of the 4-5-1 formation. "If we work on our communication it can be good. Lane and Jordan were great players, so we are going to be missing them. But we've been doing a lot better."

If the offense does struggle it knows it will have an experienced defense to back it up. All four defenders are seniors, led by Renz and Hans Rorstrom. The other two, Hector Vasquez and Casey Dinkel, are playing the position for the first time this season, but have seen enough varsity action the change shouldn't be difficult.

"I'm relying a lot on my seniors on my defensive line this year ... that's going to be our strong point. I really believe in those four seniors," Maska said. "I got what I think is one of the best senior groups I've ever seen before. With their leadership, it's been making (the transition to head coach) a little bit easier for me."

Completing the defense will be senior Jake Thorell at goalkeeper, although he could be challenged for playing time from sophomore Conner Staab. Both are trying to replace last year's goalie, Sheldon Sulzman, who graduated.

Following today's 4 p.m. game at Garden City, the Indians will host McPherson High School on Thursday afternoon in their home opener.

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