ETHS’s new soccer players have a tradition of shaving their heads. Photo by Lynn Trautmann/LTPhoto Evanston                  

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Franz Calixte has just about seen it all in high school soccer as he enters his 18th season at the helm of the Evanston boys soccer program.

Every year, it seems, the Wildkits lose a significant number of senior starters and backups to graduation and are forced into what seems to be a rebuilding mode.

But considering that Coach Calixte’s teams have only suffered three losing seasons since he took over, it is safe to say that the Wildkits do not rebuild – they reload.

ETHS has only two returning starters on the 2016 roster, defender Josh Klier and midfielder Dylan TerMolen, from a squad that was supposed to be rebuilding last year. Instead, that team went one step deeper into postseason play than the previous year before being eliminated in the Illinois High School Association state tournament with a 1-0 supersectional loss to Libertyville.

Evanston finished a sterling 21-2-3 behind a defense led by goalie Adam Masters that only surrendered five goals all season. Adam graduated as one of the top goalies ever to wear an Evanston uniform, along with David Adamji and Jon Maendel, and it will not be easy to replace the three-year starter.

“The difference between last year and this year is that, even though we didn’t have any starters returning on defense, we did have Adam,” Coach Calixte pointed out. “We felt pretty good about that even with 10 new guys in front of him.

“We’re still Evanston and we do have talent. But I credit our success to our lower-level coaches and the feeder programs that prepare our kids for the varsity level. We develop the talent when it gets to the varsity and we’ve always made a point of playing for each other and playing for the tradition of Evanston High School. There’s a lot of pride at stake, and when things get tough we do rely on that Evanston tradition.

“This is a brand new team, that’s true. But we’ll still make it difficult for anyone else to win the conference championship. We won’t be pushovers.”

Coach Calixte prefers to build Evanston’s successful teams from the back line, but the emphasis may shift more to the offensive end this fall. “This year it’s all about scoring goals for us,” said the veteran coach. “The last time we finished second in the State we didn’t have a lot of shutouts that year. We won a lot of games 5-2, so it can be done, and this year I think we’re going to focus on scoring more.”

Juniors Miguel Jimenez, Colin Thompson and Nkurunziza (call him Chris, his teammates do) Nduwayezu could form a formidable scoring punch sooner than later for the Wildkits. Colin scored 3 goals in the teams’ Orange-Blue intrasquad scrimmage prior to the season opener, and Chris is a 5-foot-9 dynamo who will likely be a marked man by the time the Wildkits begin the Central Suburban League portion of their schedule.

Chris is a refugee from Rwanda who landed at ETHS last fall, after the high school soccer season had already started. He played for the Jahbat feeder club team and made an immediate impression on the Coach.

“He has the potential to be very good, and we get him for two years,” Coach Calixte said. “He can create opportunities for himself on offense. He can pass, he can dribble and he can find the open person and open things up for the others, too. He needs to work on finishing [shots], but he also has a pretty high soccer IQ.”

Miguel saw significant action on the varsity last season, as part of the regular rotation as a sophomore, and he can play either forward or midfield. He’ll also serve as one of the team’s co-captains, a rare honor for an underclassman. “We expect big things out of Miggy,” said the coach.

Another veteran forward is senior Sam Blustein, who’ll add depth and leadership up front.

In the midfield, Dylan will start along with junior Aidan Tobin. Both Dylan and Josh should be the ringleaders of the defense following a deep run in the national tournament with their club team, FC United. Newcomers Danny Managlia and Zach Gayle are also a part of that starting defensive unit.

Zach, a senior, is another move-in. He came from Jamaica last year and did not play soccer, instead earning a starting job as the libero for the ETHS boys volleyball team. “He wasn’t out for soccer and I didn’t even know about him until the last day of school, when I saw him dribbling the ball in the fieldhouse and I did a double take,” Coach Calixte said. “I told him he had to come out for soccer next year, and he came to all of our summer camps and league games. He’ll definitely help us.”

There’s a two-man competition to try to replace Adam in the net. Sophomore Gavin Rosengarten – all 5 feet, 6 inches of him – is battling senior Jack Norman for the starting job, a competition  the Coach expects to last at least until the Central Suburban League opener set for Sept. 6 against Highland Park.

The Wildkits play their home opener tonight at 7 p.m. against former CSL South division foe Waukegan.