The coach just didn’t think his underclassmen would make such a big impact on the Wolverines. While players such as senior forward Aaron Huang and senior midfielder Miguel Lemus have been two of the team’s anchors, Howliston has been surprised with the rapid improvement of his younger players.
“A lot of the core structure and shape was already predetermined,” Howliston said. “They’ve been pretty quick out of the blocks.”
Sophomore midfielder Marcus Salvador started the week with three assists, third on the team. Freshman midfielder Juan Valasques, who has worked his way into the starting lineup, and sophomore forward Omar Lesdesma each have two goals.
“Any way we can help is good,” Lesdesma said. “We like putting our 100 percent into the game.
Howliston, who possesses a thick British accent and friendly demeanor, came to America from Leeds, England and has been coaching the Wolverines for the past five years. After traveling back and forth across the pond with college buddies, setting up soccer camps here and working with professional teams, Howliston decided to move to California full-time three years ago. For his first two seasons as Deer Valley’s coach, Howliston was on a work visa.
A lifelong soccer enthusiast, Howliston is trying to bring the English style of play to America, in his own small way. “Soccer in England is just faster and more physical,” he said. “To be honest, the high school level is more organized over here, but it’s definitely a bit faster and more physical in England.”
So far in this young season, his team has been meeting Howliston’s expectations and setting the tempo for the rest of the league.
Through its first 10 preseason games, Deer Valley is off to a surprising 5-2-3 start, facing tough competition from the neighboring East Bay Athletic League. The Wolverines played to a scoreless tie on Dec. 11 against San Ramon Valley. Last season, the Wolves knocked Deer Valley out of the North Coast Section playoffs in the first round.
The Wolverines defeated Alameda Contra Costa Athletic League foe Berkeley 2-1 in the season opener. Last year, the Yellowjackets made it to the third round of the playoffs before losing to eventual NCS champion De La Salle.
Deer Valley also boasts shutout wins over Clovis West and College Park – both teams who made the postseason last year.
“Our offense is getting us goals when we need them and our defense is pretty solid,” senior defenseman Mike Ortlieb said. “We get to play all the top teams first and work out all the kinks early, and then when we go into league, it’s a lot easier. We know what to expect.”
Huang leads the Wolverines with five goals. Lemus is second with three goals, but has been credited with a team-high six assists. Howliston also praised the efforts of Ortlieb and junior forward Zach Larson.
Howliston said he scheduled a tough non-league slate to make sure Deer Valley is battle-tested when it starts BVAL play on Jan. 11 against defending champion and cross-town rival Antioch. The match will start at 6 p.m. on the Wolverines’ home turf. Last season, Deer Valley lost to Antioch 2-1 in its first game, then tied the Panthers in two scoreless matches.
“We’re going to be in shape and looking good, I think,” Howliston said. “Fingers crossed.”