PREBLE COUNTY — County soccer is set to begin this weekend if contact sports are approved by Ohio, and schools will be looking to get off to a good start in a season where they have high expectations.
Eaton optimistic with 11 seniors on roster
After finishing 5-11-1 with a 2-9-1 record in the SWBL last season, the Eagles will look towards their seniors to help improve their record this season.
“There is a lot of optimism this year due to the fact I have 11 seniors,” coach Michael Bacher said. “They have played together for a long time. I am hoping to see them play with a lot of swagger this year.”
With 11 returning seniors, he had no shortage of superlatives to help describe what Eaton’s girls soccer team might look like this season.
“Junior Amyah Thacker is a returning Second Team All-Area player who is ready to take a big leap this year and should be on a ‘player to watch list,’” he said. “She has been amazing with her runs [and] moves, just needed to work on finishing in the final third. She’s done that through the offseason.”
Bacher said that junior Rylee Ruebush is just as talented as Thacker, but she was injured most of last season and he is excited to have her back.
“She plays with a chip on her shoulder, all the time,” he said. “Her numbers will be comparable with Amyah.”
He added that senior Alaina Schaeffer is healthy, and so far through the preseason has looked dominant in the midfield in orchestrating Eaton’s offense.
“She will be setting everything up for us, and has a finishing touch,” he said. “Her free kicks are spot on. I expect to be very dangerous on set pieces with her.”
Splitting time between striker and midfield, senior Kylee Kidwell, who Bacher said has a motor that never stops, has earned a sense of trust from her head coach who knows that she will be in the right place. He added that he expects her to be involved in scoring this year.
“Senior Madison Fugate over on our left half will see time at mid and striker,” he said. “I believe she’s poised to make a splash into our offensive attack and hungry.”
He also mentioned seniors Mercedes Welcome, Trinity Eddy, and Kendall Combs who will be on the back line together and have played together for a while as a “pretty stout defense.”
Bacher said seniors Lexi Brooks and Jenna Aukerman will be in the offensive mix as well.
“Juniors Julie Couch and Camryn Bates, I am very excited about,” he said. “Cam is very skilled and great with the ball, as well as shutting people down. Julie is our physical presence and very good at shutting people angles down defensively. I also expect her to move forward on our set pieces, use her size, to be our target to finish.”
He added that sophomore Morgan Imhoff is a very likeable player who works hard, is laser focused, eager to compete, and will be a strong player for the Eagles.
In goal, Bacher said senior Bella Hurd will be returning at goalkeeper along with junior Tiara Miles.
“Bella seems as dialed in as I’ve ever seen an eager to showcase her talent,” he said. “Tiara Miles will be competing with her.”
In terms of newcomers, Bacher is excited to see freshman Emma Gebhart.
“She will see a lot of minutes [and is] very talented,” he said. “We will move her around a bit, midfield and striker. She has a lot of potential. Once she gets a few games under her belt I feel we will be talking about her a lot.”
When talking about where he’d like for his team to improve this season, he said the team has been stressing intensity, pressure on the ball defensively, and movement off the ball.
“Dynamic runs will be key for our strikers. Midfielders will need to take up space, sit in pockets, connect with each other, in order for us to move forward,” he said. “We need to be able to possess the ball in front of their back line, in order to get behind their back line. Something else I want to see this year is winning the ball out of the air.”
Kenneth Stewart leading Trail in first season
After a winless 2019 campaign for the Lady Blazers, Kenneth Stewart is taking over as coach to help turn around Trail’s girls soccer program.
“I was privileged to coach the junior high girls 7-8th grade basketball teams last season and was humbled to accept my current position from National Trail’s administration and school board,” he said.
Stewart has also coached extensively in recreation and junior high levels in both basketball and soccer at Elizabethtown Area School District in Pennsylvania and Piqua City Schools, and he serves as pastor at Ware’s Chapel United Methodist Church in West Manchester.
“I am honored to share coaching responsibilities with alumni Molly Denlinger, as well as the school’s Athletic Trainer, Samantha Chrismer,” he said.
It has been a challenging offseason for all high school sports, and Stewart said they are eager to get underway.
“This year’s team is eager to get our season underway, having worked together since June to condition and hone our skills,” he said. “We have several returning starters, including two seniors who keep our opponents off the board: defender Sara Norton and goalkeeper Paige Kowarsch.”
He said that each have provided a strong level of leadership that has eased the transition from coaches over the previous year.
“Sara is joined by her sister Leah to provide a strong defensive presence on the field,” he said.
Stewart said they are also proud to welcome back several underclassmen including forwards Brienne Kosier and sisters Hailey and Harley Henderson, as well as Breanna Daum, Allison Whitesell, Elle Jackson-Daughtery, and Alaina Wallace who will look to strengthen Trail’s midfield presence.
“We are pleased to welcome freshman defender Kaylie Carrell as well as multi-sport athlete and defender Jenna Pettit, who will split time between volleyball and soccer,” he said. “Forward Julia Riesenbeck and defender Ellie Lawson will also be wearing multiple hats, juggling a demanding band schedule with their soccer responsibilities.”
Trail recently held a mini-camp the week of July 27 where they hosted 35 student athletes in grades 1-8 that the team helped lead.
“The SAY Soccer program has become greatly successful in recent years, and it was our privilege to unify our efforts and support the program as a whole,” he said. “The connections made between players and their younger peers proved positive and meaningful.”
Though Stewart isn’t sure of expectations for his team this season, he knows they will work together to support each other on and off the field.
“Through this interesting and challenging summer of COVID-19, our players remained diligent and dedicated to improving as a team,” he said. “Although we have yet to define expectations for league play or otherwise, one of our goals is to never land on zero. With an offensive focus and a determination to master the art of passing, this year’s Lady Blazers will work together to support each other’s successes both on and off the field.”
Thies expecting good things from North
With 19 girls on this North’s varsity soccer team, coach Ted Thies said he is expecting good things out of this year’s squad.
“We have a group of freshmen that have a lot of experience in high level soccer. We have added a solid midfielder in [sophomore] Jess Isaacs whom we will rely on to set the pace for us,” he said. “Add junior forward Mackenzie Bacher who is returning from a serious knee injury but looks sharp as ever and First Team All-Area sophomore [forward] Sophia Brunk, we should be more competitive than we have been the past few seasons.”
With these additions, Thies said that they now have the ability to get to the goal and put the ball in the back of the net, something he said has been a struggle the last couple of years.
A question that he said will need to be answered is if they can continue to keep opponents from scoring.
“Last season we cut our goals against in half from the previous season,” he said. “This year we need to do the same and are going to rely heavily on the experience of junior defenders Lexi Madigan and Shawnee Kraul to help us do that, and for junior goalie Kenzie Lykins to make that next step and stay focused on the play in front of her and get more involved further up the field.”
Other returning players include junior midfielder Jenna Klingenbarger, junior forward Destiny Simon and senior defenders Hailey Haines and Alana Heck.
Isaacs will be a newcomer for North this season in addition to nine freshmen including midfielders Ava Brunk, Sadie Royer, Cora Helms, Erin King and Sydney Shorts, stoppers Nicole Lefeld and Natalie Lefeld and defenders Breanna Callahan and Kailee Hollinger.
“Ava really put the time in the weight room and with her ball over the winter and this summer, and she’s looking really sharp,” Thies said. “Midfielder Sadie Royer is another freshmen that is looking good, and I expect great things this season out of the Lefeld twins, Natalie and Nicole. The two twins and their decision making will be a major factor in whether we succeed or not this year.”
Also being added to the roster as an assistant coach is Hailey (Thies) Peterson, Ted Thies’ daughter, who was named Second Team All-State in high school and is Tri-County North’s all-time career goal leader with 98 goals.
All in all, Thies is excited about this year’s team as they look to improve on their 2-11-1 record in 2019.
“I know for a fact we are a better soccer team this year and I am hoping that translates into more victories during the season,” he said. “My main goals for this season are to finish with every girl healthy and uninjured, have some fun, and play soccer the right way and compete for a CCC title.”
South looking to follow up school-record 13-5 season
In his first year as Twin Valley South’s coach, Eric Petersen helped lead the Panthers to a school-record 13 wins along with five losses.
Now, with 10 of their 11 starters returning from last season, they’ll look to build on that success this year.
“We finished the year setting a new school record for best season record at South at 13-5,” Petersen said. “We graduated no seniors and are returning 10 of our 11 starters. We’re excited about our opportunity this year as we’ve gained experience, confidence, and picked up some great freshmen who will provide depth on our bench.”
In addition to depth, he said that they are returning a strong number of key players in 2020.
Starting in goal, he said that senior Abby Utsinger is looking to set a new school record for career saves to complete her senior year.
“Our defense is anchored by junior Sydney Aldrich and seniors Allison Bassler, Kailee Burkett, and Taylor Clark,” he said. “These four bring a mix of speed, toughness, and aggressive play that will be the key to building out of our backfield and keeping the ball in the offensive end of the field.”
He said that senior Jasie Clark will return at wing. She scored South’s lone goal in their 2-1 loss in OT to their tournament game against Troy Christian.
“We’re excited about our offense this year as we move to a three-forward formation which will transition junior Maddie Hundley from midfielder to forward with [our] returning starters, sophomore Amelia Wharton and junior Makiah Newport,” he said. “Maddie led the team last year in assists, and both Amelia and Makiah set school records last year; Amelia for most goals in a game, and Makiah for most goals in a season. We’re excited about what these three will bring; if they can selflessly work together as a unit, they will be an incredible challenge for opposing defenses.”
Petersen said that the remaining starting spots will be determined throughout the pre-season.
”We have a good group of returning players who are competing for these positions including junior Pearle Rollyson, and sophomores Danielle Denlinger, Lily Marker, and Skyelur Weber,” he said.
South will have a strong core of starters, but Petersen said he is also excited about the incoming freshmen class.
“We’re excited about our freshmen class of Ava Clark, Lani Howard, Brooklynn Letner, Rylee Ray, Brylee Simpson, and Makenzie Wise,” Petersen said. “These girls are a bright future for South, and we anticipate that they’ll be ready to bring depth off of the bench this year and even push the starters for positions as the season progresses.”
He added that the team’s challenge this season will be building great chemistry and teamwork together.
“They are are a great group of girls who are competitive, tough, and hungry to take the team to the next level,” he said. “[Assistant Coach Chad Newport] is an outstanding coach who brings a wealth of soccer experience to the team and is a huge part of our progress; we absolutely wouldn’t be where we are without his expertise.”
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @BradenMoles