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Panther soccer faces test against Dodge City Thursday
dc angel lopez



DODGE CITY -- Three years ago, the Dodge City soccer team further established itself as a powerhouse program by notching a perfect season. 

The Red Demons (6-0, 2-0 WAC) have opponents 35-3 during their 6-0 start heading into Thursday's road game at Great Bend (2-6, 0-3 WAC).

The Red Demons went 20-0 in 2020 and captured the Class 6A state championship, joining Aquinas as the only programs in state history to post two undefeated seasons. Dodge City went 21-0 in the 2016 campaign. 

From a leadership standpoint, the current squad reminds Dodge City coach Saul Hernandez a lot of the 2020 squad that had nine seniors, just like this year's team. 

“They know that now they’re the guys that have to put the team on their shoulders,” Hernandez said of this year’s seniors. “Back then, they just watched the seniors and tried to soak everything in. 

“It’s been a process. I’m hoping that the younger guys are now learning from these guys and keep it going.” 

“They’re doing what we’re asking them to do,” Hernandez said. “They’re playing the ball quick, we’re looking for quick switches and making quick transitions to catch teams off balance.”

Dodge City might have the best 1-2 scoring punch in that state with seniors Angel Lopez and Aron Martinez, who share the team lead in goals with 11 each. 

“Those two guys kind of mirror each other,” Hernandez said. “It’s nice because if one team double-teams of triple-teams one of them, then the other one is open. They put in the work and they deserve all the accolades and recognition they’ve been given.”

Senior midfielder David Garcia is also a major catalyst for the Red Demons. 

“He’s the heart of the team right now,” Hernandez said. “He controls the tempo, talks to his teammates. He wants to feed his teammates. His energy is second to none and his passion is second to none. He’s the engine right now and we’re really glad that he’s playing the way he’s playing.”

Hernandez said junior midfielder Yair Vazquez is among the players who have stepped into bigger roles this year following last year’s 20-1 season and third-place finish in 6A. 

“He’s grown a lot, even from the beginning of the season,” Hernandez said. “He’s had some great passes. He’s been really impressive for us.”

Martinez leads the team in assists with seven while Garcia has six. 

Goalkeepers Francisco Solis and Geovanni De Luna have combined for three shutouts. 

“We have two great keepers, that’s why we use each for a half,” Hernandez said. “It’s so difficult to choose between them. 

The highlight of the season so far was a dominant showing in the Aquinas Saints Classic in which the Red Demons cruised to wins against Manhattan (7-0), powerhouse Aquinas (3-1) and Lee’s Summit West (6-1). 

“There were very good teams there,” Hernandez said. “The scoreline doesn’t really tell the whole story but we found out a lot about our team there. Those teams exposed some of our weaknesses that we didn’t know we had. We saw that we had more depth than what we thought as well.”

Dodge also showed off that depth in a 10-0 win against Hays last Thursday. Martinez and Lopez each notched hat tricks, and the Red Demons continued to tack on goals even when their starters were out of the game. 

“It’s nice to see the level doesn’t drop that much when we make changes,” Hernandez said. “Obviously it does drop a little bit, but it doesn’t drop as much as it has the past few years.”

“We’re working on our weaknesses,” Hernandez said. “We do get exposed sometimes, but playing against good teams is always going to do that.”

Hernandez also credits his assistant coaches for helping maintain a winning culture. His staff is comprised of former Red Demon players Raul De La Torre, Tony De La Torre, Pancho Cayetano and Carlos Sanchez. 

“It’s been fun so far and hopefully it stays fun,” Hernandez said.