By John Philip Wyllie
Last week may have been a turning point for the boy’s soccer team at Hilltop High. The Lancers opened league play by rebounding from a slow non-league start to take a pair of matches from Mar Vista High. The second game of the two-game series saw center midfielder Erik Vargas step up to contribute two goals. He assisted on two others. Vargas, a gifted sophomore center midfielder, is the engine that drives the Lancers.
“Erik is passionate about everything he does in life,” said Lancer coach, John Salts. “Whether it is his music, academics, friendships or soccer, he always gives 100%. He has three things that I always look for in a soccer player. He has the head, the heart and the intensity. Erik contributes to both our offense and defense and always seems to be in the middle of the action. At the same time, he always tries to make the players around him better. He is an incredibly mature young man that knows what he wants to do with his life.”
What Vargas wants to do right now is keep the Lancers headed in a positive direction. They started the week a little under .500 (4-5-4) and hope to build on last week’s success. Despite the fact that they are a young team, Salts believes they have the potential to develop into one of his finest.
“This is the most talented team that I have ever coached here at Hilltop,” Salts said. “I’ve had (individual) kids with more talent, but never a team with this much talent. They found out the hard way earlier in the season that even though we have that talent we will have to come together, play as a team and play hard in order to be successful. I think now everybody is on the same page.”
Vargas will no doubt play a large role in the Lancer’s fortunes. Having grown up around the sport, he feels comfortable in a leadership role.
“My parents played soccer and I watched them from the time I was two years old,” Vargas recalled. “Being a leader is not an easy thing (when you are only a sophomore), but the team has really helped me.” Vargas has lots of talent surrounding him, so that has helped too.
“(Center midfielder) Juan Montano is probably the most skilled player that I have on this team. He has incredible footwork and touch as well as a good knowledge of the game,” Salts said. “And then we have Ernesto Velasquez. Ernesto creates music with the ball at his feet. He can put the ball in (the goal) in any situation and with anybody around him. It is like watching a concert whenever he touches the ball. Ernesto is our (primary) goal scorer and Juan and Erik are the guys that set things up. The three of them form an incredible core and all three will be back next year.”
Salts however, is not conceding this season to youth or rebuilding.
“We are hoping to do well in the CIF tournament this year, but we are also looking to the future as well. Here at Hilltop we look back on our tradition and always try to build on it.”