Expectations remain despite graduation losses
All four Knox County boys soccer teams have quite a different look this year as heavy losses to graduation were felt across the area.
Offense takes the biggest hit, as Lincoln said goodbye to its leading goal scorer, and Rivet, South Knox and North Knox lost their top two scorers. Of the 12 Sun-Commercial all-area selections in 2018, 11 of them were seniors.
But those losses bring new opportunities, and Rivet (14-3 last season) and South Knox (11-4-1) still have plans to continue their winning ways. The Patriots and Spartans have combined to win five of the last six Class A North Knox Sectional championships, with Rivet taking the honor last year. The Warriors (7-10) hope to find themselves in the mix as well, but they have a mostly youthful roster. They no longer have the luxury of hosting the sectional either, as the seven-team field relocates to South Knox, which recently added lights. Bloomfield, which is tournament eligible for the first time after recently starting its team, joins the sectional to replace Shoals.
The Alices (0-13-2) are just trying to get into the win column. Lincoln has managed just one win over the last three years, including winless campaigns the last two seasons. The good news for Lincoln is that the roster is up to 24, the largest its been in years, with the majority coming from the freshman and sophomore classes.
After a combined 30-6 mark over the past two seasons, it'd be a surprise if the Patriots didn't fall off a bit this season. But a strong senior class, paced by midfielder Cedric Schleiss, should prevent too big of a tumble.
Among Rivet's losses were two-time Sun-Commercial Player of the Year Colten Mouzin, goalkeeper Macaine Claycomb and second-leading scorer Cameron Klein. Schleiss should bring some offensive stability, as he led the area last season with 14 assists to go with eight goals.
Other key seniors returning are defenders Austin Finch and Trevon Taylor, and midfielders Wesley Murawski and Noah Donovan. Senior Aaron Wyatt steps in for Claycomb in goal, and juniors Peyton Catt and Drake Dunn add to the defensive experience.
“The midfield should be a strength of our team with three returning seniors,” Rivet coach Thierry Schleiss said. “Noah and Wesley are the lungs of our team while Cedric is in charge of distributing the ball and directing a young offense. On defense, Austin and Trevon have to confirm all the progress made last year to fill some gaps. At this point, all I can say is that they come to practice ready to play, which is encouraging.
“It's difficult to replace the eight players who graduated, but we still have plenty of experience.”
Juniors Charlie Niehaus, Sebastian Hardin, Seth Ferris and Jacob West are the primary goal scorers, with sophomore Dylan Daugherty and freshman Ryan Nguyen also getting opportunities up front.
Newcomer Owen Dobbs is a senior midfielder, and freshman Thomas Herman and Curtis Shake complete the roster. Herman is the back-up goalkeeper.
“This year will be more challenging, as you don't replace the offensive talent we lost,” coach Schleiss said. “However, our seniors are ready to lead our team and show everybody that we're still the team to be in the (Blue Chip) conference. Our margin of error is clearly smaller, but we still have a talented team.
“If Cedric confirms the form he had in last year's postseason, our offense will score. Noah's work should earn him the spotlight he deserved last year. Our key to success will be our ability to cut down mistakes in the back. Sectional is a clear goal for us, and in my eyes, keeper Aaron Wyatt will be the key to a long tournament run.”
Schleiss added that Northeast Dubois and South Knox are the biggest obstacles in the Blue Chip, where Rivet is a two-time defending champ.
Like Rivet, the Spartans lost a good chunk of their starters to graduation. Also like Rivet, South Knox returns a talented, experienced senior class that gives the team plenty of reason for optimism.
The seniors are Avery Gerkin and Tristen Dubbs in the midfield, Eli Thomas at center forward, Chase Donaldson on defense, and Trevor Malott moves from defense to goalkeeper.
“All five are returning starters, and they should all have an impact on this year's team as they've started or played major minutes since their freshman year,” Spartans coach Tim Goodwin said. “Avery and Tristen both have great ball skills and can distribute to our strikers up front. They play off each other well and can break defenses apart with their passing ability. Eli has excellent speed and a great shot with great anticipation for the attack. Chase continues to lead our defense, as he's been back there since he was a freshman. Trevor shows the heart and fearlessness needed by a goalkeeper, and I think he'll be one of the better keepers in the area.”
Others returning on defense are junior Collin Myers and sophomore Tristian Wirth. Junior Evan Miller and sophomores Parker Kimmell, Owen Lancaster and Abe Singleton are interchangeable pieces who are splitting time between the midfield and forward spots. Goodwin added that junior Shannon Benock, sophomore Kylar Simmons and freshmen Jackson Thomas, Dakota Candler, Herbie Nowaskie and Pedro Pantall are also pushing for minutes.
Rounding out the roster are juniors Dagan Bonenberger, Cordell McCoy and Logan Mise, sophomores Hunter Davis and Stephen Byrd, and freshmen Taylor Dobbyn, Morgan McCarter, Ethan Pelham, Jackson Hoops and Colin Johnson.
The usual goals of competing for Blue Chip Conference and sectional titles remain unchanged. Goodwin didn't name a favorite in either field, but he's confident his squad will be among them.
“These seniors have won two sectionals, and they didn't feel good the way last year ended. Practices have been solid and more intense led by their leadership,” Goodwin said. “Our goals are the same as years past, to improve as the year goes on and to be ready for the sectional.
“It seems like all the teams in the conference and sectional field lost a lot of their scoring, so it will be interesting to see how everyone has reloaded. Our coaches are looking forward to watching this team compete for conference and sectional championships, as we feel the kids can make that happen.”
It's been almost three years since the Alices have won a match. They've managed three ties over the last two seasons, but the victories have been elusive.
Still, the program seems to be heading in the right direction. Though coach Aaron Lange didn't get a win in his first season, the fact that he's returning is a positive step, as he was the fourth Lincoln coach in as many seasons when he took over a year ago.
Most importantly, the numbers are up. Lange currently has a roster of 24, which is a tremendous uptick considering the Alices finished the 2017 season with 11 healthy players. Wins will still be difficult to come by, but Lincoln is finally trending upward.
“The last three seasons for the Alices have been pretty rough,” Lange said. “We've doubled our roster size since I took over last year, and this has given us some much-needed depth. Although most of that depth is underclassmen, I expect we'll be more competitive than we have been the past few seasons.”
Senior Lucas Hunt is back at goalkeeper, and senior Logan Anderson is the anchor on defense. Sophomore midfielder and team captain Jason Ramirez is expected to be the offensive leader.
“(Hunt) has been the starting goalie for three years, but we'll look at maybe bringing him out of goal periodically in certain situations,” Lange said. “(Anderson) brings stability and knowledge to our defensive line, and we look for (Ramirez) to really open up the offense this year and create some scoring opportunities. His touch on the ball is exceptional.”
The other seniors are Adolpho Ubaldo and Ashtin Russell; Mason Harris, Tommy Allen and Austin Tislow round out the juniors; sophomores are Jack Glosser, Evan Ress, Nathan Boger, Layne Anderson, Ethan Blair, Carter McGill and Rylee Greeno; and freshmen are Colin Cory, Dagen Parido, Jonathan Soderling, Keeton Smith, Christian Burton, Teighan Johnson, Hunter Grostefon, Damien Henderson and Xander Lambert.
Russell and Allen are new to the sport, but should help on defense and offense respectively. Lange added that he's excited about the freshmen class, and that three or four could crack the starting lineup.
“We have nine games where we can be competitive. Consistent effort with controlled aggression will lead to some victories. The key will be to maintain our shape and play as a team,” Lange said.
Jasper and Washington are the Big Eight Conference favorites, while the Hatchets are the team to beat in the sectional, according to the coach.
It will certainly take a team effort for the Warriors this season, as they have the smallest roster in the area with just 15. Goal scoring is a question mark too, with all-area picks Brandon DeCoursey and Carter Shaw gone to graduation. DeCoursey scored 15 last year and became the school's career goal-scoring record holder, while Shaw tied the single-season record last season with 17 goals.
The team has just two seniors as well, but a deep junior class helps balance out the youth.
“They're all going to see the field, and we're going to be young,” long-time Warriors coach Robert Cullen said. “Almost half are freshmen and sophomores. I don't like to use the term 'rebuilding,' but we're young and we'll be finding ourselves on the field. I expect this team to get better as the year goes on as these freshmen turn into true high school players and get used to the speed and going up against stronger players.”
Seniors returning are defenders Jayce Jimenez and Dennis Stalcup, while experienced junior Cole Jones is the glue in the midfield. Juniors Brant Trinkle and Connor Hartzburg and sophomore Todd Wolfe are expected to be the goal scorers up front with Jones, though Cullen said he'd like to utilize Wolfe's height (6-3) and athleticism in the back at sweeper as well.
“I expect Cole Jones to be a real important part of our team as an attacking midfielder,” Cullen said. “Those other three will help in the scoring column, and I'm sure (Wolfe) and I will come to an agreement where he'll probably do a little up front and in the back. (The seniors) may share time at the goalkeeper position as well. Either way, those two are going to be out on the field in important, leadership positions for us.”
The other juniors are Isaiah Mackey, Cavan Lemberg and newcomer Austin Greubel. Gage French is the only other sophomore, and the freshmen are Ethan Irvine, Josiah Mackey, Daniel Leydet, Mac Memering and Dalton Thurston. French could also see time at keeper, Lemberg splits time with cross country, and Thurston is a move-in from soccer-rich Washington.
“We want to be a team that's hard to play against. If we show ourselves as a good team, then we'll have the opportunities to get some wins, especially in conference,” Cullen said. “The Blue Chip is tough, and I think everybody there and in the sectional have opportunities. It's hard to predict what you're going to get from Washington Catholic, but Rivet and South Knox should have good teams, and Northeast Dubois always poses challenges in the conference.”