Little Elm boys soccer

Little Elm senior captain Angel Morales leaps in the air to guard the goal line behind senior goalkeeper Daniel Rodriguez during Monday's game at Denton Guyer.

DENTON – Before the Little Elm boys soccer team played its first game as a member of the state’s highest public school classification, there were challenges that the Lobos had to work through.

Little Elm was hit hard by graduation. The Lobos had to say goodbye to their entire defensive backfield and a total of eight starters, most notably Santiago Castorena. Castorena, one of the top scorers in the entire Metroplex during the 2020 season, was named the co-MVP of District 8-5A after he scored 38 goals in just 20 matches.

In addition to retooling their lineup, district realignment has forced the Lobos to compete against much larger schools. Other teams in 5-6A, including Allen, have more than 2,000 students above the level to be a member of Class 6A, while Little Elm is around 200 above that threshold.

“I graduated from Allen High School, so I know the mentality of what they’re going to do to win and how hard they’re going to work, and we just have to match that,” said Aaron Ziehm, Little Elm head coach. “We definitely have the talent. We just have to match that physicality of the game.”

Despite being one of the smallest schools in 5-6A, Ziehm’s Lobos have more than held their own.

Little Elm came into Monday’s game against Denton Guyer with a conference mark of 0-4, but the Lobos were in every game. The Lobos lost by scores of 2-1 to both McKinney Boyd and Prosper, 3-2 to Denton Braswell and 4-1 against Allen.

It was just one or two mistakes that proved to be the difference in each game, Ziehm said.

Little Elm finally got over the hump Monday, defeating Guyer, 3-2. Edward Garcia notched two first-half goals and freshman Damian Castorena, the younger brother of Santiago, buried the game-winner less than nine minutes into the second half.

“It’s nice to get that first district win,” Ziehm said. “It shows everybody that Little Elm is meant to be at this level for 6A.”

It was a fast start by Little Elm (6-6-1, 1-4).

Playing in their first game in two weeks after a winter storm forced the Lobos to step away from the field, Little Elm needed just over six minutes to produce the game’s first goal. Garcia lined a shot over the head of the Wildcat goalkeeper to give the Lobos a 1-0 lead.

“We didn’t know what to really expect with the 14 days off,” Ziehm said. “We knew that they might be slow getting after it, so we had a short training session earlier at our school and went through just what we need to work on and getting after the game as quick as can be, and it showed with us scoring the first goal.”

Guyer responded to Little Elm’s goal with quick bursts up the field, and lots of them. All of that activity finally paid off for the Wildcats late in the first half. John Dalby potted back-to-back goals in less than three minutes to give Guyer a 2-1 lead.

Searching for answers to stop Guyer’s onslaught, Little Elm got the bounce-back that it needed just before halftime. Garcia dribbled from the left wing to the middle of the field and fired a shot into the back of the net for his second goal of the match, which evened the score at 2-2 with 5:04 left in the first half.

“Probably the biggest moment of the game,” Ziehm said.

Castorena completed the comeback at the 8:35 mark of the second half. He dribbled through open space on the left side of the field and put a shot to the right of the Guyer keeper. It was his 16th goal of the season.

“It was, by far, the most impressive game that we’ve played so far of us offensively playing well, us play well defensively,” Ziehm said. “What I told them earlier at practice is, ‘This is a time of a reboot, forgetting about the first four (games) and getting some momentum for the next couple of games,’ because we’re playing Monday-Wednesday-Friday. If we can get some rhythm going, we’ll be on the right track.”

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