The Durango High School boys soccer team moved up to No. 3 in the Colorado High School Activities Association Class 4A rankings Monday, and its impossible for coaches not to notice Demons midfielder Leland Heinicke.
The junior has found the back of the net six times for the Demons in four games this season. Durango (4-0, 1-0 5A/4A Southwestern League) moved up two spots in the rankings after a win against Farmington High School. Heinicke scored the game-winning goal in that 3-1 victory.
Heinicke said it’s the new formation under first-year head coach Aaron Champenoy that has allowed the Demons to score at will early this season. The Demons now have 19 goals in four games after Tuesday’s 10-1 win against Grand Junction Central.
“We switched our tactics to a 4-2-3-1, so we have three in the midfield this year,” said Heinicke, son of Courtney and Jennifer Heinicke. “We are winning the ball a lot easier because we’re up that extra man, and that allows us and the counterattacks to be much quicker. We’re definitely getting in on goal a lot more than we used to.”
Heinicke’s head coach pointed to the junior’s size as a big reason he’s able to finish in front of goal.
“Being 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds is a great thing to work with, along with being athletic at that size,” Champenoy said. “I think he’s a handful for teams to play. Normally when you see a kid like that, he’s usually playing a centerback or is a striker, and we have him playing as a central midfielder. He’s a handful; he’s got very good vision, good touch and he wants to get better.”
When Champenoy took over the program in August, he gave every player on the team a personal goal to accomplish. He gave Heinicke one of the biggest workloads of all.
“Coach told me six to 10 goals at least and 10 assists for the season,” Heinicke said. “I’ve scored more goals this season than I have in the last two seasons combined, so when he told me 10 goals, I was pretty shocked, but it’s been going in for me, so hopefully, it will continue.”
Champenoy joked that the goal may have to be adjusted.
Heinicke said that, in order for the Demons to be successful throughout the season, the team has to take the right mentality every time they step on the pitch. That started with Durango’s first 4A/5A Southwestern League game Tuesday at Grand Junction Central.
“Grand Junction Central is a good team, but we’ve beaten them both years that I’ve been here,” Heinicke said. “I want to go out there with my head held high and am expecting to come out with a win. If we don’t, then me and the rest of the team will be pretty disappointed.”
While the rankings and a hot start to the season certainly help Heinicke’s mentality, he said that the preparations under Champenoy are also an adjustment, but it’s been positive.
“I think the way that we are set up in general has been a big boost,” Heinicke said.
“We are dangerous on set pieces, our movement in the box has been great, and I’ve scored off of a lot of set pieces, so having coach show us how to move has been super helpful. We’ve also been doing a lot of technical work, and I think that just makes us a lot crisper on the ball and a lot faster.”
The next step in Heinicke’s arsenal is not developing a first-touch finish or a perfecting a perfect through ball. It’s leadership.
“I think for him, it’s continuing to grow as a leader and to take a little bit more of a leadership role,” Champenoy said. “Only being a junior with a big group of seniors, it’s kind of uncomfortable to be a leader sometimes, but I really think that’s his next phase of his game, to become more of a leader on the team.”