Zach Boothe has seen the interest in Denham Springs High School boys soccer grow tremendously in his four years as a defensive starter.

The DSHS soccer program is in its eighth season and climbed to new heights last season with its first district championship and playoff berth. The Yellow Jackets are off to a 17-3-1 start and are ranked No. 9 in the latest Division I coaches poll. The 17 wins are a school record, and DSHS was never ranked before this season.

“When I was a freshman, we didn’t hear much about soccer around school,” said Boothe, a 6-foot-1 center back. “Some people didn’t know there was a soccer team. The interest has grown 10 times over.”

DSHS second-year coach Chris Thorne said 70 players have tried out for the team the past two seasons. This year’s team has 33 players with all having select playing experience for the first time.

The Yellow Jackets have pitched 14 shutouts and have outscored their opponents 96-12. DSHS defeated Alexandria 1-0 to avenge last season’s bidistrict playoff home loss. No. 2 Acadiana defeated Denham 2-1 twice this season.

“Our first goal is to get clean sheets on defense,” Boothe said. “We want to make it further in the playoffs than we did last year. We want to play up to our best ability. We’re getting there but still have some work to do.”

Junior striker Cam Hilliard is one of the top goal scorers in Division I with 25 goals and his nine assists rank high. Junior striker Cade Murry has 17 goals and three assists. The duo combined for 40 goals last season.

“Cam and Cade are fun to watch,” Thorne said. “They’re both fast and creative players. They work well with each other. Having to defend both of them is difficult for most teams.”

Hilliard said he and Murry have played together since age 4 and have a special chemistry.

“I just want our team to win,” said Hilliard, who has 48 goals the last two seasons. “We’re playing with confidence. This team feels like a family and our bond is deeper than soccer. I think the last few years we’ve all improved physically and mentally.”

Thorne said he can start a back four of all 6-footers or sub two smaller outside defenders. Boothe, an all-district football place-kicker, 6-foot-2 junior Craig Hodges and freshman Cameron Hamby are among the defensive standouts. Sophomore Tyler Medina is the goalkeeper. Boothe pushes forward on set plays and has six goals and five assists.

“Opposing coaches say our play is direct,” Thorne said. “Zach Boothe is our general and orchestrates the team from the back. Craig Hodges cleans up everything in the air and finds a way to win the ball.

“Teams have got to beat us on the ground. Our defense works fluidly together, and they all have extremely high soccer IQs.”

Midfielders Zach Kimball (11 goals, four assists) and Joao Borsato (10 goals, two assists) also make the offense go. Borsanto is a foreign exchange student from Brazil.

“Borsato is very aggressive and a fluid player,” Thorne said. “He has a knack for the goal.”

Boothe said this is the best team depth in his four seasons.

“Now we can sub a guy in and the level of play stays the same and I think that’s great,” Boothe said. “Coach Thorne has brought structure to the team and helped us improve. We’re trying to make a name for ourselves and put Denham soccer on the map.”