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The Free Press of Buda, Texas

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Rebels vie to win back district title

Looking to reclaim the district title it lost last season, the Hays Rebel boys' soccer team is working to improve, both in the record book and on the field. But it will have to do so with a team comprised mostly of sophomores and juniors.

Last season, the team's bid for a third straight district tide fell by the wayside. The result was a second place finish in 49-4A - behind rival Lehman High - and a first round loss to juggernaut Georgetown East View in the playoffs.

The work will be tougher this season. Gone are captains Talon Homesly and Luis Ochoa, who graduated. Christian Varela, who was one of the leading offensive threats for the Rebels, also walked the graduation stage last June.

Filling those positions will be a tough challenge for the 2014 squad.

Coach Jason Burnett says he has quite a few utility players, so while the team may lack positional athletes, Burnett believes the influx of utility players could be an asset.

"We will be a lot more flexible in formations and rotations for (substitutions)," Burnett said. "There will be times I can sub on the field just by moving people without having to go to my bench."

Thus far, Barnett has enjoyed the team's enthusiasm and work ethic. He looks to see their continued hard work, with the set goal of improving every day.

Despite only three seniors on the roster - Christian Chavez, Chris Humphries and Xavier Garcia - Hays will feature a battle tested junior class.

As injuries hit last year's seniors, the strain helped ready many of the underclassmen for the rigors of varsity soccer.

"It was stressful on them, but [it] made them better for this year," he said. "They are now game ready for sure."

The ability to have returning starters is an asset, according to junior forward Nick Thies. He feels the team's knowledge of the system, along with knowing what to expect, will prove paramount.

As such, many of last year's underclassmen hit the weight room. The goal was to ensure they don't get pushed around by older, more experienced opposition.

It was all a part of growing to the varsity culture.

"Everyone had to grow up and experience how varsity plays," junior John Hin-nekamp said, "it's a big step up from (junior varsity), and that's where most of us came up from."

They all look toward the Rebel Cup, which Hays will host Jan. 9-11. The tournament will give Burnett the chance to work with his utility players and find the best fit for them.

While the team readies itself for the district grind, Burnett says he is working on the basics. He believes adhering to fundamentals prior to district will help the team in late game situations.

But for Thies, the idea is to take the season as it goes.

"We have to take things one game at a time," he said.

Advancing beyond last year's bi-district round finish is a goal set by the team. But improving on the field is Barnett's preeminent objective; everything else will fall in place if that is accomplished, he said.

But the mentality in district remains the same - take back the title.

"[The kids] are chomping at the bit [for district to start]," Burnett said. "They want that title back."

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Original Publication Date: January 1, 2014

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