As the McKinney Boyd boys soccer team made its venture to the regional semifinals last season, the contributions of an 18-player senior class loomed large in that effort.
The Broncos were chalked in veteran leadership, with several of those student-athletes logging heavy minutes over multiple varsity campaigns and contributing to a run that included a district championship and regional quarterfinal appearance in 2021, followed by the program's first four-round playoff foray since 2018.
With the team's stalwart 2022 class now graduated, head coach Colby Peek admits that Boyd has perhaps exceeded initial expectations in some areas as the Broncos start navigating their District 5-6A schedule.
"We're definitely pleased with where we're at and how we're progressing. I feel like we might even be a little further ahead than I thought we'd be after the preseason," Peek said. "I thought it'd be a little more turbulent, especially after graduating 18 seniors."
One area where that reflects so far is scoring the ball, with Boyd finding the back of the net 16 times through its first 10 matches following Wednesday's 3-1 victory over McKinney.
One of the catalysts in the team's success the previous two seasons was the trio of alums Spencer Sarkissian, Diego Ferruzzi and Jonathan Marquez, who combined for 35 goals and 32 assists last season — accounting for the majority of the Broncos' production in both categories. Their graduations left a sizable void on the attack, and Peek and his staff naturally had to adjust.
"It was a bit of trial and error, putting guys in different situations to see if they could handle it. We tried to make training as intense as possible and challenge them," Peek said. "Just as big a challenge with all those guys graduating was leadership. We had a lot of guys who really haven't had that responsibility and are trying to learn that their roles are different now."
Peek added that schematic adjustments were made to Boyd's system to better accommodate the team's personnel for this season. The strength of this year's team, at least in terms of roster composition, lies in a cadre of players comfortable operating out of the midfield — of the 22 players on the Broncos' roster, 11 classify as midfielders.
The strength in terms of experience, however, resides on defense with proven commodities anchoring the back line in seniors Caleb Sempebwa and Jason Hoyle — two players whose offseasons have been split between soccer and football — in front of senior goalkeeper Mark Buckingham.
Sempebwa and Hoyle were all-district second-team selections last season alongside junior Cesar Batres, a center defensive mid, and senior Nissim Pingue, who has helped fill the void up front at forward.
Peek anticipated that Boyd could be strong on defense, and the early returns have backed that up. The Broncos allowed just three goals during their tournament season, which spanned six matches where the team posted a 4-0-2 record.
Following Wednesday's win over the rival Lions, Boyd had allowed just 10 goals all season, an average of one per match with four coming in a Jan. 17 loss to Coppell that Peek admitted was more so used to rest some of the team's big-minute players in advance of the 5-6A opener a few days later against reigning district champion Allen.
The Broncos' defense remained sharp against the Eagles, who are ranked No. 1 in Class 6A by Lethal Enforcer Texas High School Soccer, but a late penalty kick spelled the difference in a 1-0 verdict in Allen's favor.
"Allen is always a great test. Our district is chock-full of opponents that will get us ready for the playoffs and prepare us for the most intense moments of the season," Peek said. "It was a tight game against Allen through 65 minutes before we gave up a PK. There are a lot of lessons to take away from that game that will make us better down the line."
It marked the only time all season that Boyd had been held off the scoreboard — something the group promptly righted with three first-half goals against McKinney. Senior Charles Drew, committed to play for Methodist University in North Carolina, accounted for two of those goals and has been one of the team's early-season catalysts on offense, according to Peek, after playing reserve minutes behind Boyd's veteran core last season.
Pingue has aided in the Broncos' goal-scoring efforts, as have juniors Matthew Mitchell and Keane Cobuzio, while Peek is encouraged early on by the progress of freshman George Eddy, who also scored in Wednesday's win over McKinney. Eddy is the younger brother of Elizabeth Eddy, a standout junior on the Lady Broncos' soccer team who fittingly scored two goals of her own that same night in her team's 4-1 win over the Lionettes.
"It was a much-needed three points. McKinney High is a good team with good results on the year," Peek said. "They've been playing well and it was big to get in the win column to avoid 0-2. It's always big to win against your cross-town rival."
For all the turnover throughout Peek's lineup, expectations remain familiar for a program that has been at least three rounds deep in the playoffs three of the past four postseasons. The Broncos look to take another step towards those goals at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday with they host fellow playoff contender Prosper.
"We just have to keep getting better. Our goal is to always compete for a district championship and make a deep playoff run," Peek said. "Sometimes that first goal is almost tougher than the second one. We lost our first meeting with Allen and still have a bunch of tough matchups, but we're hopeful that as we get down towards the end that we'll still be in the hunt to win a district championship and compete for a playoff spot.
"Then we just want to get that first one and try to get on a roll."
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