Wentz finds his home, sweeping up Boys soccer: Liberty defender keys team's 2-0-1 start and No. 15 rank by not backing down. (And he's not bad at tennis, either.)

September 15, 1996|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

To get an idea of what Liberty sweeper Craig Wentz is about on the soccer field, let's first visit the senior's spring hobby -- tennis.

He was nearing the end of his sophomore year when Wentz, looking for something to do, picked up a racket, eventually found a partner in pal Brian Levin and started playing exhibition doubles for the Lions' tennis team.

A year later, the two were county doubles champs.

They did it with no overwhelming serves, no screaming backhands and no domination at the net (Wentz is 5 feet 6, and Levin, who has since transferred to McDonogh, is shorter).

"A lot of it's mental," Wentz said. "Most of those guys were so much bigger than us, and a lot of guys would get psyched out by that. But we were just out there having fun. We would just lob it over the net and wait for them to make mistakes. It took us a lot farther than we expected."

Liberty tennis coach Bruce Damasio called their game "scrappy and unconventional."

There's plenty of scrappiness to Wentz's play on the soccer field, but nothing unconventional about it. Having played the game since he was 5, he's polished his skills and provides the Lions with a reliable anchor at sweeper.

And he takes the same approach as when he's on the tennis court -- he doesn't back down.

"There're not a lot of people who can beat him, although they may think they can because of his size," said Liberty's first-year coach Ed DeVincent. "What he may give up in size, he makes up for with his speed, and he's not afraid to go up against anybody -- he has a lot of heart."

A senior co-captain in his third season on varsity, Wentz played ++ midfield through his elementary and middle-school days before making the move to defense in high school. He started as an outside back until former coach Lee Kestler gave him a chance at playing in the middle early in his sophomore season. He's been there since.

"It's not a glory position. Going into the season, I was thinking maybe I wanted to go back to midfield and score some goals, but this is my position," Wentz said. "You have to be quick to get back on people, and you also have to anticipate where the ball is going. You also have to have a good sense of where everybody's at on the field."

"It's also important to be vocal. [Goalkeeper] John [Silva] and I are the last ones back there, so we have to take control."

Wentz and the Liberty defense have been doing their job so far this season. In going 2-0-1 in the early going, the No. 15 Lions have allowed just one goal and 11 shots to get through to Silva.

"He's our quarterback and the last guy back before John, who hasn't had a lot of shots," DeVincent said. "He's improved a lot. nTC His sophomore year, he came in a little intimidated, but worked on his skills. Two years ago, a lot of his clearances were going out of bounds. These days, they're staying in bounds and often finding our players."

As for the vocal part, that's never been much a problem for Wentz.

"I think that's why I'm captain -- I'm always talking," he said.

Added DeVincent: "Craig keeps everyone loose and knows when it's time to have fun and when it's time to get serious. Come game time, he's all business."

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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