The Panthers will kick off the boys soccer season this weekend when they host their annual McKinleyville Invitational Soccer Tournament.
The six-team, two-day tournament begins on Friday afternoon and will feature H-DNL opponents Eureka, Fortuna and Arcata, as well as Cloverdale and Making Waves Academy out of Richmond.
Making Waves is a small private school that finished runners-up in the North Coast Section Division II a year ago and will move up to Division I this season.
And Mack head coach Ryne Deppe expects the competition level at this year’s tournament to be much improved on recent years.
“There won’t be any easy games in this year’s tournament, that’s for sure,” the Panthers head coach said.
Deppe and his players are optimistic heading into the new season, with some key returning players back to lead the charge.
“We’re excited,” said Deppe, who is in his fifth year with the program, his fourth as head coach. “Our talent level this year is higher than it’s been in all the time I’ve been here. It’s by far the most talented team I’ve had.”
The Panthers will look to seniors Caleb Coke and Alex Macey to lead the way, along with juniors Dustyn Heneke and Narayan Weibel.
Coke returns after playing last fall with the Mendocino Eagles travel team and is expected to add some bite to the Panthers attack, while the experienced Macey will help anchor the defense.
Heneke and Weibel will each also start in midfield and attack.
In addition to their talent, the head coach has been pleased with the attitude his players have shown this preseason.
“Overall we have fun every day trying to get better,” Deppe said. “We’re a talented group that has fun at practice and fun improving. And we do have great leadership this year.”
In goal, junior Ethen Shelley returns to provide a last line of defense, while in front of him defenders Nathan Witte and Isaac Ward will be expected to play a big role in defense alongside Macey.
The Panthers open the MIST against the Arcata Tigers at 1 p.m. on Friday, with Cloverdale playing Fortuna at the same time.
Ray Hamill writes at humboldtsports.com, where you can read lots more about sports in Humboldt County.