Varsity Kansas

High school offseason: Heights soccer coach Ryan Kelley

Kelley led a young team to a fourth-place City League finish last season and a regional final loss to Dodge City. With a core group of juniors returning and senior Ari Velasquez taking on more of a leadership role, Kelley looks forward to seeing what his team can do.

What did you think about the way you ended the season last year?

"Last year we ended up in the top half of our conference. So I was happy with that winning league record. But we definitely have areas to improve on. We ended up fourth last year so we need to see if we can place higher this coming year. We were one game away from hosting a regional game and we didn't we had to go play at Garden City and ended up losing 2-1. We'd like to host one this year and see if we can host some games postseason. We improved last year with our record, and we want to see if we can improve this year."

I know the City League schedule is always hard with teams like Kapaun, Southeast and East, isn't it?

"Our league is pretty competitive with those schools and Northwest is always a rival of ours. We were ahead of Kapaun, but Northwest, East and Southeast were all schools we lost to last year that we want to try and be more competitive this year. We play Trinity this year for our first game. We've never played them. So that's a team we're focusing on right now. We finished third in the Titan (Classic) last year, and we want to see if we can place higher."

Ari Velasquez was an All-Metro pick last year. What does he brings to the team?

"We are really limited with our upperclassmen. We only have two seniors and Ari is one of them. He's a really good player who just continues to get better every year. This is a big year for him because it's his senior year. He was a captain last year as a junior and I think that as a senior he's already started to take on more of a leadership role of working with younger players — knowing that it takes 11 players to win a game. I can kind of see him starting to accept that role as that leader. Our junior class in general is a pretty strong class. We're mostly juniors this year, which on paper makes us look pretty young, but I'd say about half of the juniors were starters last year as sophomores. So we might look young on paper, but hopefully we'll be able to play a little bit more mature than what our age level says."

That has to make you a little bit comfortable, doing what you did last year with all of those sophomores and only four seniors? Are you confident that you can compete in the City League this year?

"I think we're going to have stronger leadership this year. We never know. Heights is one of those schools that get a couple of international players every year. Some of those are players that can contribute at a varsity level. As of right now we don't have any, but that's always exciting on the first day of practice to see what guys are foreign and what guys have improved from the year before. The boys have worked out this summer and have played three or four times a week. They're getting in shape and are really excited to start the season."

Do you think playing Trinity and Maize plus your City League schedule toughens you up for the postseason?

"We have one of the hardest schedules. We've got Maize. Dodge City is always a tough team. We usually get Garden City in the tournament. We almost have an opportunity to play every team in our region right before regional's start. It's good because it starts the competition level off high from the first game to the last game, which is good. It keeps the boys sharp, and it also let's us see who we're playing before the regional. We're not playing somebody we've never played before. At least we've had the opportunity to watch them."