By Chris Bils / American-Statesman Correspondent
Through five matches, first-year Westwood boys soccer coach Stefano Salerno has already spotted the defining characteristic of his new team.
"Their resiliency, for sure — 100 percent," said Salerno, who spent nine years at A&M Consolidated in College Station, with the past six as head coach.
On Thursday, the Warriors fought back from a deficit in the closing minutes to forge a 3-3 tie with El Paso Franklin. So far, the team has three draws and just one victory. The only loss was to the Woodlands, ranked No. 7 in the state by Top Drawer Soccer.
From Consol, a program he built into a perennial Class 5A power, Salerno brought his mantra of #TillTheEnd. There's still plenty of room for growth, but the coach has been pleased with the Warriors' competitive spirit.
"There were a number of games where we were down, and we kept fighting back," Salerno said.
Westwood also has talent and experience. The program brought back most of its starters from a team that finished second in District 13-6A and made the second round of the playoffs. Sophomore forward Nikola Djordjevic is back to build upon a freshman campaign that earned him All-Centex newcomer of the year.
"The biggest factor last year for me was just to work hard," Djordjevic said. "High school is much different than club. It's a lot about using your body well and going in for every tackle hard."
Salerno is impressed with what he's seen so far from Djordjevic, who led the Warriors in goals last season.
"His technical and tactical abilities are definitely up there from what I've seen in seven years as a head coach," Salerno said. "He carried the team last year with goals, and this year what I've been trying to make happen is he can't be our only goal-scorer."
So far, that plan has been working, with Djordjevic scoring two of the Warriors' nine goals.
Helping carry the load offensively will is senior Felipe Centeno-Gunz, who splits time between right wing and both fullback spots in Westwood's 4-3-3 formation.
"The application of (Salerno's) tactics to the way that we play is really great," Centeno-Gunz said. "(Consol) played completely different when we played them last year. He applied everything he knows to how he can make us succeed."
The back line is anchored by center back Jack Elliott, a four-year starter and captain who has also been the kicker for Westwood's football team.
"Last year, we had a problem scoring goals; but our attack is really bolstered," Elliott said. "We have all the defense returning, so that experience will keep us solid in the back."
The Warriors have two more nondistrict tournament games before kicking off league play Monday against Hendrickson. Salerno is excited.
"It's obviously a very challenging district," Salerno said. "You know that every single game is going to be a dog fight. We can talk about making playoffs or winning district. I'm trying to instill a winning mentality in the group. That's the biggest thing."