2023 SEASON PREVIEW: LHS is out to prove they are a top-10 program in 4A
Published 9:15 am Wednesday, February 1, 2023
LaGrange’s soccer team is coming off one of the best seasons in program history. The Grangers were consistently ranked in the top-10 a season ago where they narrowly lost out on a region crown while making it to the round of 16 of the state playoffs. Despite losing some quality seniors, the standards at LaGrange remain high.
“It’s hard every year because you lose pieces and you have to figure out how to replace them,” LaGrange coach Shane Pulliam said. “We talk about standards everyday at practice.”
The Grangers will be entering a new region this season. No longer will LaGrange have a top heavy region with themselves alongside Columbia. Now, the Grangers are in a region that might come down to four or five teams battling it out for a region crown.
“The games are going to be on us quickly and with our schedule this year, that scares me,” Pulliam said. “We have played most of the new region teams like Starr’s Mill and Whitewater, and we played Trinity Christian at the 7v7 tournament at Callaway this past summer and know what to expect from them. Some of the teams we haven’t played before are less of a threat, but there are always surprises in a season.”
LaGrange is coming off a season in which the team went 13-4-2 with no loss coming by more than one goal.
Senior Reese Lester has one year of starting experience under his belt and looks even more confident going into his final season with the Grangers. One of the reasons for this is the fact that the team has a volunteer goalkeeping coach.
“It makes us feel so good to look over there and see Rod Skiff over there working with the goalkeepers five days a week,” Pulliam said. “This is something we haven’t really had before.”
Pulliam is hoping this will be a catalyst for goalkeeping play to improve across the board as the Grangers will be looking to replace their top two goalkeepers next season. Senior Spencer Stephens will serve as the backup goalkeeper in 2023.
Junior Luke McSpadden is the only returning member of the backline in 2023. He will slot right back in as one of the two centre-backs and command the defense. Fellow junior Walker Vinson will likely start at centre-back alongside McSpadden after serving as the primary backup on defense last season.
“They are leading the way for the defense this year,” Pulliam said. “We have some guys that played JV last year that are going to have to step up. We will see if they are ready for the level and compete for 80 minutes at the varsity level.”
The Grangers will certainly miss the height and aerial presence of Bryce Kuhn, who was a big part of what the team did at the back while also contributing offensively with four goal and eight assists.
Expect the two full-back spots to be filled by some younger talent on the team.
Cade Hollstrom is heading into his junior year and is more confident than ever. While Pulliam is not quite sure of his midfield shape, Hollstrom is one of the first names on the team sheet for LaGrange. He contributed three goals and seven assists last season.
“Cade has had a great fall with the club team he plays with and was one of the leading goal scorers on the team,” Pulliam said.
Hollstrom is a pre-season first team All-State player and will be looking to live up to the billing once the season kicks off.
Jan Alvarado was a second team all-region player a season ago and contributed 10 goals and six assists from the wing, but Pulliam expects him to slot into the midfield in 2023.
“Jan was preseason second team All-State, and we plan to move him back to holding midfield,” Pulliam said. “We like his size and his vision. He is really one of the few players we have that can spray the ball around accurately to all parts of the field.”
Senior Bo Beall was a starter in the midfield a year ago and will likely find a role in the starting lineup as well. Fellow seniors Christian Ceja and Andy Patton will see plenty of minutes as well and both will likely get some starts this season.
Jordan Bryant could see some time in midfield as well. The senior was plagued by injury a season ago but has had a great fall as he looks to get back to firing on all cylinders for the Grangers. Bryant was a preseason second team All-State selection.
Senior Davis Knight will be leading the front line once again in 2023. After leading the team with 26 goals and 22 assists a season ago, Knight will be the focal point of the Granger attack.
“Last year, he had a great season, but nobody really knew who he was,” Pulliam said. “Now, everybody knows who he is so we’ll see if he can handle the pressure of everybody now worrying about him.”
Knight is a preseason first team All-State player and has committed to playing soccer at Piedmont University.
Beall and Bryant will also see time in the forward positions as well as their versatility gives Pulliam depth and key pieces in multiple positions. Junior Logan Raley is also one to keep your eyes on as he pushes for varsity minutes this year.
“He’s had a really good preseason so far,” Pulliam said. “He’s been hitting some good shots in practice, and he’s been really accurate.”
The attacking midfield and forwards will have to replace Tripp Hollstrom, whose leadership and contributions in front of goal (15 goals, 21 assists) will not be so easily replicated.
“It will likely have to be by committee until somebody shows that he can step up and do it,” Pulliam said.
FRESHMAN TO WATCH:
The Grangers have just one freshman on the JV team this year — Luis Morales.
“His scores and everything he did were some of the best we had across our whole team,” Pulliam said. “We are hoping he comes in and provides a spark when needed and makes sure he never gets overwhelmed.”
Morales will likely see time as an attacking midfielder.