Atholton gets a kick out of Denno


His feet may be small -- a mere 8 1/2 inches -- but his kicks are long. No county soccer player has a more powerful foot than Atholton High's Alex Denno.

Denno, a senior whose passion is defense, routinely mesmerizes opponents and fans with kicks that soar 75 yards in the air.

Such power can create instant offense for the Raiders, because they have speedster Derek Phillips on the receiving end.

Such power also serves Atholton well on busted dead-ball scoring opportunities such as corner kicks and throw-ins. He can power deflections into goals.

Denno, a marking fullback, scored twice off deflections in Atholton's opening 3-2 overtime victory over Kennedy. Both goals were off left-footed kicks. Atholton fans can expect to see Denno score some more.

"I don't know where the power comes from," Denno said. "It's not something I was taught. I just always had it since I was little."

Denno's good speed and powerful foot seem to make him a perfect candidate to play striker. But don't even think about switching him to offense.

"My parents told me a coach tried moving me to offense when I was little and I cried because I liked defense so much," Denno said.

It's been defense ever since for the first-year Olympic Development Program state team player.

Denno played in London and Wales with the ODP team in June, where it won two of three games against tough competition.

He is a far superior player this year than last fall. The difference is so noticeable that both Atholton coach Reg Hahne and Denno's Columbia Crew club team coach Dave Kelley have commented on it.

"I've seen leaps and bounds of improvement in him," Kelley said.

Denno credits some of that improvement to playing for the state team under Coach Pete Hilsey.

The Raiders are undefeated at 2-0-1, beating Loyola and Kennedy and tying Meade. Denno wants to forget the Meade game, because the man he was guarding, an outstanding sprinter, scored both Meade goals. And the Raiders dominated offensively in the second half, but failed to put the game in the win column.

He's happy to be playing marking back, his favorite position and the one he plays for the Crew. Last year, he played sweeper for Atholton.

"I didn't want to waste Alex at sweeper this year," Hahne said. "By playing outside, he can utilize his speed to attack and his strong foot to move the ball diagonally."

The only flaw in Denno's game seems to be his penalty kicking. He missed penalty kicks in two Atholton shootouts the past two seasons. One was in a regional championship game against Gwynn Park that the Raiders won on the way to a state title. And one was last year in a loss to eventual state champion Centennial.

"I probably thought too much on those kicks, so this year I'm going to use a different strategy and just blast it," he said.

"He has a load of potential and I expect him to do good things," the Crew's Kelley said. "Quite a few Division I coaches are interested in him."

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