The past few years have been pretty tough for the Northland Prep boys soccer program.
Since going 12-7 overall in 2015, Northland Prep is 13-26-2 and the Spartans are now on their third head coach in that span.
First-year head coach Erik Carrillo, who played high school soccer for the Coconino Panthers, saw his team drop its first game under his watch with a 2-0 loss to the Round Valley Elks Tuesday at Sinagua Middle School.
Northland Prep struggled to find much room to work the ball into the Elks defense, and had only a handful of shots on goal in a wet and rainy game.
Round Valley scored early in the first half off a penalty kick and later off a shot inside the Spartans box in the second half. The Elks easily outshot the Spartans, consistently putting pressure on the Spartans backline and goalkeeper.
Even though it wasn’t exactly what Carrillo expects from his team, he said it is still early and the Spartans are still learning what he wants from the group and how to run their schemes.
“I have a really young team, we got a lot to work on,” Carrillo said. “It’s a whole new system, whole new coaching staff. We have to build up the program again. We have some returners. But like I said, it’s a whole new system, so it will take time to build it up there again.”
The Spartans have four seniors, eight juniors, five sophomores and four freshmen on the roster, so the squad is fairly young and inexperienced.
Despite that, one of the Spartans' top returners from last season is just a sophomore in Bryce Twidwell.
Twidwell showed glimpses of what he can do to help the Spartans program with consistent passing and tough defensive plays at midfield during the season opener Tuesday.
But for the program to get off its feet and start competing at a high level in the 2A Conference, the group needs to improve just about everywhere -- starting on defense.
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Last season the Spartans were outscored 47-31, and struggled to keep possession in many games.
That’s exactly what Carrillo wants to see improve early on to build the foundation.
He said his scheme is built on possession, and keeping teams from getting much momentum against his defense.
“For me, possession,” Carrillo said. “The easiest way to defend is to have the ball. So we have to work on a lot of passing, getting up their pushing and moving off the ball. We look a lot better, it just takes time to make it happen.
“We have our own little system that I’m working with them,” he added. “We will get there, it’s just the first game.”
Carrrilo played for the Coconino Panthers varsity squad, finishing his high school career in the 2014-15 season.
While Northland Prep is his first high school coaching gig, he has coached for a few years at the club and youth levels in Flagstaff.
Carrillo said aside from helping him learn what type of schemes he wants to run, his experience coaching club and youth gave him insight into how to best relate and reach players to get the most out of each athlete.
“Definitely building connections with them,” Carrillo said. “They will not respond to you if you don’t give them the respect or get with them at a personal level. You have to know your players and know what clicks for them and what doesn’t.”
The Spartans (0-1) will travel to face region rival Camp Verde on Friday at 4 p.m. in Camp Verde.