Denver Post preps editor Kyle Newman caught up with 15th-year Boulder soccer coach Hardy Kalisher to discuss the defending Class 5A state champion Panthers, his keeper situation, the tradition of the program and more.
Q: After defeating Broomfield in 14 rounds of penalty kicks last season to capture the program's second state championship in five seasons, how do you get your team to refocus and raise the bar again this fall?
A: Every year we talk about raising the bar, and about raising our own standards within the program. Those standards all go back to our values and the culture we instill in our young student-athletes and the legacy they've passed on each year. Things that we control are focused around being a great teammate, being a great family to each other, work rate without the ball - if we do those things right, a conversation about results can start to happen toward the end of the season. This year, like each year, we'll try to play better soccer tactically and with a more sophisticated style as well because we know teams are going to be preparing for us.
Q: How will the culture of your program contribute to your success this season?
A: We work with the players we have, and we have the benefit of having a large program with around 100 kids trying out each year. I know the capabilities of our players from last year, and now we'll stretch those capabilities a little bit, and challenge them to take their play to another level. At Boulder High, one of the things we've prided ourselves on is playing a style of soccer that might be above the expectations of a normal high school program. We have those expectations again this year just like we did last year, and that group responded well to them.
Q: With your keeper from last season, Djibril Doumbia, now off at Barça Academy in Casa Grande, Ariz., what's your plan in net?
A: I have three senior goalkeepers who have all been in the program for three years, and all three of them are capable. One of them will emerge as our primary keeper through the preseason, but no matter who does, I expect us to have one of the stronger keepers in the Front Range League.
Q: Who are key leaders on the team this year?
A: Eric Ramirez has been our starting center midfielder for the last two years, and he'll be a senior. He was just recently named preseason All-American - one of only 140 players in the country to get that - and he's coming in with confidence. He'll definitely be a captain, and I'm excited for him because he's drawing some Division I attention. He reminds me of Quinn Liebmann, who was the state's Gatorade Player of the Year a few season ago. Eric is a player in that mold, and in some ways, I believe he might be stronger.
Omar Castruita, who was just a sophomore last year, was all-state and broke our all-time assist record last year. He's gotten physically stronger and is much more mature, and he'll be very difficult for teams to stop. Nick McCabe, who will also be a captain, will also be a focal part of our offense and he'll have a breakout year as a senior. And senior Quinn Frankovsky played in the CHSAA All-State game this summer, and he's the leader on our defensive line.
We have a lot of experience coming back in key positions, and 19 seniors on the squad - that's the largest senior class we've ever had. We're focused on building the team chemistry and the ‘la familia' culture, and we have the right players to do that.