After a rocky start, the Hays High boys soccer team stayed within striking distance and made things interesting late in Tuesday’s season opener against Garden City at Hays High.
Despite coming up short in a 2-1 loss, Silas Hibbs will like his team’s chances for a successful season if the Indians continue to show the fight they displayed in the second half.
HHS fell behind 2-0 by halftime, but kept the Buffaloes off the board the rest of the way and gave themselves a chance after Brantlee Staab scored with 12:55 left.
Hays couldn’t find the equalizer, but Hibbs was proud of the effort his team put forth in the second half.
"First game, you don’t know what to expect, especially after the whole COVID situation," Hibbs said. "We saw a lot more encouraging things than discouraging. I think we have a great group of guys that we can work with and get where we want to be."
Garden City standout Leopoldo Hernandez put the Buffaloes on the board in the 13th minute and struck again with 11:38 left in the half.
"We started a little bit flat," Hibbs said. "We started a few freshmen and some guys that never started before, so they were a little anxious. Once they settled in the second half and we made some changes, I thought it looked a lot better."
The Buffaloes had a few opportunities to put the game out of reach in the second half, but Hays goalkeeper Alecxiz Cano and the Indians’ defenders stymied the chances to keep HHS in the game.
"That’s one of the best games I’ve ever seen Alecxiz Cano play," Hibbs said. "I’m super proud of him. Also, Brandon Musil and Jake (Taliaferro), our two center back positions, they always do such a good job holding us down in the back.
"We started a freshman, Kyzer Fox, at left back. I thought he guarded the best player on the field the entire time — No. 18 (Hernandez) for Garden was good. (Fox) shut him down for the most part aside from a couple quick goals. Hector (Amaya) played well in the back, too."
Shortly after the Buffaloes had a goal waved off, Staab brought the Indians within a goal after firing in a shot from the left side with about 13 minutes left.
"Obviously I was really proud of Brantlee for burying a shot to get us back in the game," Hibbs said. "I think we were kind of a tale of two halves. First half was slow, sluggish. We got used to the pace, and I think we won the second half, I really think we did.
"Not super proud of the result, but I’m proud of the way the guys fought back and proud that we put one in late and made it a game."
The Indians are looking to take a step forward after a 2-13-1 season with a young team a year ago.
"I think our outlook is definitely going to be up from last year," Hibbs said. "We started basically more freshmen than anything else last year. We still start a lot of freshmen and sophomores this year, so we will be young. As a coach, that’s super encouraging because you look forward and get excited that you have a lot of time with the kids before they move on.
"I think the fact of the matter is we have tons of room to grow. And we have guys that are dedicated and work hard and are committed to getting better. And so for me, it’s just a matter of time before these guys continue to blossom."
Hays High will rely heavily on core seniors Musil, Samuel Rider, Alecxiz Cano and Blake Steiben.
"Those four guys are really solid," Hibbs said. "They’re great leaders and they’re going to be who we lean on going forward."
The Indians recognized its 10-player senior class after the game. Hays High’s seniors are Alecxis Cano, Steiben, Riner, Musil, Cesar Macias, Aldo Cano, Alan Enriquez, Gabriel Garcia, Tre Jones and Dylan Stejkal.
Hibbs wants the Indians to use the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic as motivation to appreciate every opportunity they get to take the field.
"I think just like every unfortunate situation, there’s a lot of positive to glean from it," Hibbs said. "I think the kids understand that if we catch a case on our team this could be over really quickly. I think they get it.
"Obviously we had our senior night tonight to make sure we give the seniors credit just in case we don’t get (the whole season) in. As a coach, it’s a great tool for motivation to get a lot out of your players because you’re not guaranteed that we’ll be able to practice tomorrow. Hopefully they make the most of every opportunity."
Hibbs thanked the parents of the seniors. He also appreciated the strong turnout for the game.
"Thanks to the fans because they made it a special night for the boys," he said. "We didn’t get the outcome that we wanted, but I think it was a fun game to watch and kept people around. Just really appreciative of that support. It means a lot."
The Indians are scheduled to play at Great Bend next Tuesday.
Garden City 2, Hays High 1
Garden City — Goals: Hernandez 2.
Hays — Goal: Staab.