The fact that Walker’s 2017-18 season ended at the hands of the eventual Division I state runnerup doesn’t soften the. If anything, the first-round loss to Catholic High only fuels the continual development of the program.
Wildcats’ coach Todd Wall will admit it straight up: Trying to build a winning soccer program in Livingston Parish has been an uphill battle.
Wall said the harsh reality of the situation is that kids growing up in Livingston Parish don’t grow up with soccer and play it year round like opposing players in the district do. Most of the time, Wall makes due with just pure athleticism.
“When you get into high school ball, especially around this area, it’s harder to find a crop of what I’d call regular soccer players,” Wall said. “Our roster is filled with very skilled soccer players and athletes that are just playing soccer and we have to find a way to get them together. The ones that don’t have as much soccer experience have to be caught up quickly.”
Walker has created something and is riding a wave of two straight winning seasons. The Wildcats broke through for an 11-8 season in 2015-16 after going winless the year prior and last year rode a 14-7-4 record into the playoffs.
“Making the playoffs is still a huge bonus for us,” Wall said bluntly. “We want the program to move forward and to grow. I want to get as many students into the game and to like the game as much as we do.
"Something we struggled with in the past was getting enough players together to compete with some of the teams we play.”
The Wildcats have strung together not just two straight winning seasons, but two straight winning seasons of noticeable improvement. Now, Walker must deal with something winning programs struggle with year in and out: Replacing talent.
There wasn’t a ton of talent lost, as most of Walker’s projected lineup has starting experience. But the pieces that were lost were not easily replaceable according to Wall.
He tagged senior goalkeeper Brennan McGally as the central piece for the Wildcat’s upcoming season, stating that his health is crucial to the success of the team.
Wall also advises to keep an eye on Alex Vega, a dynamic senior striker who has started since he was freshman. Wall praised Vega’s finishing touch and eye for where a play will go and develop to. Caleb Wall has been named by his coach of the same name as a key player. Wall is a soccer swiss army knife, capable of playing multiple positions in the attack position. Like Vega, Wall is also a four-year starter.
Todd Wall also stressed how important it is that Walker moves the ball more this season and Zach Fruge is at the center of that approach. Fruge is an accomplished passer, which is an invaluable asset to have when you have experienced strikers waiting for a pass beyond the back line of a defense.
“Just like any other sport, we want to be able to move the ball,” Wall said. “If we can control the ball, we can control the game.”
Part of Wall’s quest to establish a soccer culture in Walker is to be flexible in every aspect of the game. Because of this, the Wildcats will not adhere to a single-set formation. They will set their lineup based on run of form and opponent, so don’t get used to any one look.
It’s a long way away, but on Jan. 16 Walker will face Catholic High, a rematch of last year’s first-round playoff game. A win over the Bears could be the landmark moment Wall needs to establish the soccer culture he wants to build at Walker.
AT A GLANCE
2016-17 record: 14-7-4
Head coach: Todd Wall
Typical formation: Variable
Last playoff appearance: 2016-17 (Lost to Catholic High 2-0 in the first round)
Home Stadium: Wildcat Stadium
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Zach Fruge: Accomplished passer who will serve as the connection for most of the Wildcats’ passes.
Alex Vega: Walker’s true striker, he has a great finishing touch and can pinpoint any point in the net if he gets an open shot.
Brennan McGally: First-year starting goalkeeper plays vital role in negating opposing attacks, especially in district play. Can easily play at a level to record double digit clean sheets.
• Like Denham Springs High and Live Oak, Walker plays home matches on a turf surface, which facilitates faster and more accurate passing.
• That passing, when utilized right, plays a big role in negating any talent differential between Walker and the visiting schools.
• The Wildcats have all the pieces to compete at the highest level, it’s just a matter of all those pieces coming together at the same time.