Senior Erick Fedde was a forward when he joined Las Vegas High’s boys soccer team as a sophomore.
But on a team that featured standout strikers such as Joaquin Rivas — last season’s Review-Journal player of the year — Fedde had to find a new role.
Coach Vince Hart inserted Fedde into the middle of the defense last year and he flourished, helping the Wildcats to the second state championship in school history.
"He’s a prototype college center back," Hart said. "He’s going to fill out. He’s tall, he’s good in the air, he’s fearless — what else do you want?"
After losing 13 seniors to graduation, the two-time defending state champion Wildcats will lean on Fedde and the three other returning starters, all of whom play in the defensive third of the field.
"We have to step up, make sure that everybody is in check," Fedde said. "The younger guys will be looking to us, but they’re listening really well.
"I know I have to step up and take charge in the back more. Last year, my other center back was a senior, so he did most of the talking. This year, I have to be a little more vocal."
Senior defender Ruben Amezcua, a veteran of two state title matches, also returns. He had four goals last year and set up Rivas’ crucial score that sent the Wildcats to the state final against Bishop Gorman.
Goalkeeper Rogelio Zaragoza, also a senior, will look to build on last year’s title run, during which he allowed only two goals.
"(Graduating 13 seniors) is a big loss, but we’ll make up for it," Zaragoza said. "It’s not like we’re going to lose every game. We’re not going to die from it; we’ll be all right without it. I believe that our defense is one of the strongest points."
Amezcua said Las Vegas will not only survive its losses, but thrive.
"We’re not the only team that (lost) players," he said. "We have a team to make the playoffs, I know that."
The Wildcats finished the 2009 season with a 17-4 record, eking out a Northeast League title on the final day of the regular season despite losing two games to nonplayoff teams.
Las Vegas, which hasn’t lost at home since before it won its first state title, knows, as the champion, it is likely to face every opponent’s strongest effort.
"We’ve got a target on our backs, we know that," Hart said. "We’re proud, we’re strong-minded, and we’re going to defend the state championship. Until they tell us to go home in November, we’re state champions, and we’re going to play like it."
The Wildcats have come a long way in Hart’s eight years as head coach, since the early days when he was unable to assemble a JV team while fielding an inconsistent varsity squad.
Las Vegas, which produced U.S. national team striker Herculez Gomez, has seen a rapid rise in participation and competition.
"It’s become an important sport at the school because of our success and the people who have played in the past," Hart said.
Contact reporter Sean Walker at email@example.com or 702-383-0430.In-depth high school sports coverage
PLAYERS TO WATCH
• Arbor View: Nico Johnson (Sr.)
• Bishop Gorman: Michael Gray (So.), Fuzzy Orellana (Sr.), Shane Thompson (Sr.)
• Centennial: Chance Rosa (Jr.)
• Del Sol: Eric Beil (Sr.)
• Eldorado: Luis Cruz (Jr.)
• Foothill: Christian Volesky (Sr.)
• Green Valley: Matt Babas (Sr.)
• Las Vegas: Erick Fedde (Sr.), Rogelio Zaragoza (Sr.)
• Palo Verde: Colton McCann (Sr.), Nick Robinson (Sr.)
• Shadow Ridge: Juan Gutierrez (Sr.)
• Silverado: Devin Diego (Sr.), Chase Leaders (Sr.)
• Tech: Luis Carranza (Sr.), Abdel Rodriguez (Sr.)
• Valley: Julio Borjas (Jr.)
• Virgin Valley: William Lara (Jr.)