By BRIAN CUNNIFF
Steve DeHorsey figured this season’s version of the Wildwood High School boys soccer team would be “probably middle of the pack, maybe win between eight and 10 games,” the longtime coach said.
The Warriors have far exceeded expectations, however, and have emerged as one of the better stories of the Cape May County high school fall sports season to this point.
Despite a loss to Pitman on Monday, Wildwood took a record of 6-2 into Wednesday afternoon’s contest at Clayton. It’s the best start in program history for a team that has never won more than 10 games in a season.
“A lot of people have asked me what’s gone right for us,” DeHorsey said. “I think it’s a couple things. One, we have a core group of kids that have been in the program for the majority of their high school careers that started with us as freshmen. We have a lot of two- and three-year kids at key positions getting the job done and they know what’s expected and what level they need to play at to have success. And then second, we have a good group of kids working well together and doing what they have to do to make the team better.”
One of the secrets to the team’s success is its ability to win close games. Four of the Warriors’ six wins have been by one goal. One such victory came against Buena last week, when junior outside midfielder Jaxon Tomlin’s header in the second half lifted the Warriors to a 1-0 victory. Buena had entered the game at 6-3.
Tomlin’s older brother, Tyler, has emerged as a top goal scorer. The senior forward has netted 10 goals so far.
“He’s done a great job up there for us,” DeHorsey said. “He’s put some balls in the back of the net and he’s also been able to distribute and put other guys in position. He works his tail off up there.”
Senior goalkeeper Dennis Olgun has anchored the defense. He has three shutouts.
“He’s done a great job making the saves he’s needed to make and he keeps our defense together,” DeHorsey said.
Junior center back Corlen Vallese is the leader of a defensive unit that also includes seniors Obed Pelaez and Andrew Zielinski and junior Matteo Perez.
“Corlen’s doing a great job at sweeper. He’s good at organizing things back there,” DeHorsey said. “Our defense has kept us in a lot of games. They’ve helped us get to where we are right now.”
Senior forward Will Long is second on the team with five goals.
“With Will up top and Jaxon outside – Jaxon has two game-winning goals for us – it gives us some other options besides Tyler,” DeHorsey said. “Will’s still trying to find his niche up there. He’s played defense the majority of his career and now he’s up front. I think his best is still to come.”
Sophomore Erubay Sanchez has been a contributor as the team’s center midfielder.
The successful start to the season has Wildwood thirsty for loftier goals. Instead of simply pushing for a winning season, the team is hoping to stay in the race for the Tri-County Classic Division title to the end of the season. They were in second place going into the game at Clayton. The Warriors are also seeking their first-ever home state playoff game and first-ever state playoff victory in South Jersey Group I.
“We’re in a better position now, so our goals have definitely changed,” DeHorsey said.
Wildwood’s best-ever finish came two seasons ago, when the Warriors went 10-10-1. They seem to have the personnel to challenge that mark.
“Looking at all our guys, from our forwards to our midfielders to the guys on the outside and our defense and goalie, they’re almost all juniors and seniors so they’ve played at least three years with us,” DeHorsey said. “They’re coming into their own now and they’re able to play at the level they need to be playing.”