The 2014 boys high school soccer season begins in a matter of days for most area schools. In Johnson County, one perennial power looks to break through to a new level, and two other teams will be guided by new coaching staffs.
For all of Center Grove’s success in recent years, one goal remains elusive. Despite winning an IHSAA-record 19 sectional championships and 12 regional titles, the Trojans have yet to capture a semistate title.
Last year’s team was the latest to hit that wall, dropping a 2-1, double-overtime contest to Evansville Memorial in the first round of semistate play.
Second-year coach Todd Sheely will rely on a nine-man senior class to drive the Trojans to another deep tournament run.
“I expect a lot from the seniors,” Sheely said. “It’s from how they carry themselves, to how they act on and off the field and how they interact with the younger players.
“I think last year’s seniors did a good job modeling that for this year’s seniors.”
Among the senior class, midfielder Bradley Bennett, forward Brock
Exline and defender Collin Patterson return with significant varsity experience. In addition, juniors Kyle Parry and Nathan Silva will be important players for the Trojans.
Sheely said that despite that group’s experience and talent, it can be difficult to assume roles taken by seniors a year ago.
“The challenge is how the players handle those expectations,” he said. “Can they step in and handle being the player that has to score a goal late or has to make a defensive stop late?”
Even with Center Grove’s rich soccer tradition, Sheely cautioned against taking success in October for granted.
“There are schools that Center Grove would beat nine or 10 to nothing a decade ago that can give us competitive games today,” he said. “I think it can be hard for players and their families to not think, ‘It’s automatic’ that we’ll get back to semistate. It’s a lot harder than it was 10 years ago.
“We have to win, not just play, four to five games to get back there.”
For most schools, losing 24 seniors over two years would trigger a rebuilding season. For Franklin, though, the program appears strong enough to label this a reloading year.
Coming off a 13-3-1 season, the Grizzly Cubs will be younger after losing 12 seniors. Only six seniors populate this year’s roster, with 10 juniors, 10 sophomores and 10 to 12 freshmen.
Coach Tony Harris said three players in particular will set the tone. Senior midfielders Josh Cox and Hunter Chadwell each bring three years of varsity experience to the field.
Harris said both have the talent to play in college.
Junior Justin Beasley is a two-year starter, and Harris lauded the improvement in his game over the past year.
“Those three will be big contributors for us,” Harris said, adding that the Cubs’ pressure attack is well suited for the mix of talent on the roster.
“We still want to press other teams and force them to make mistakes and then counter off those mistakes,” he said. “Our system allows us to win with maybe less talent, at times. This group hasn’t all established themselves yet at the varsity level, but they have talent.”
A tough schedule may make matching the 13 and 14 wins of recent years a stretch. But Harris hopes that it will have the Cubs well prepared for the postseason.
A former Greenwood player, Harris said he is pleased with how the Franklin program has grown during his four years as head coach.
“We want people to know we’re not the whipping boys anymore. We have a legit schedule. We’ve won our conference two straight years. We have plenty of talent. I think we’re getting respect, but the challenge is to keep that going.
“The big schools don’t have rebuilding years. We don’t want to have them here, either.”
David Harker, a former Roncalli assistant coach, takes over as head coach for the Woodmen this fall. He inherits a roster that has seven seniors who played significant minutes a year ago.
Among that senior class, midfielder Isaac Stogsdill and sweeper Joe Sheryak serve as leaders both on and off the field.
“Isaac is a hard-nosed kid who, day in and day out, pushes his teammates,” Harker said. “He’s been a model for how to play for all the underclassmen.
“And Joe, I coached him in eighth grade, and he’s grown a lot and really improved a lot. He’s a big, strong kid that is the leader for our defense.”
Sheryak’s role is especially important, as defense has been the focus for the Woodmen in practice and offseason workouts this summer.
“That’s my philosophy, to approach the game from a defensive standpoint,” Harker said. “We’ve worked hard to redefine the team’s attitude toward playing team defense.”
He added that the players have shown the desire needed to improve their defensive play.
“It’s a question of tactics rather than effort or toughness. We know we’re getting better every day; and once we get where we want to be, we’ll see better results.”
Despite winning just one game last season, Harker said the general mood around the program is positive. Thirty players began tryouts, which will give the Woodmen the opportunity to play a junior varsity schedule for the first time in three years.
And there is hope that better days are ahead.
“They’ve been really resilient,” Harker said. “The upperclassmen have shown maturity and drive, and that’s trickled down to the younger kids. We have realistic expectations, but we have some games where we can be competitive in this season.”
Greenwood Christian Academy
The Cougars are coming off their first-ever sectional title. The 2013 squad went 14-3-2 and lost to Olbenburg Academy 2-1 in the Class A regionals. However, the Cougars must replace eight starters from that team and will make a change in style as they reload.
Coach Dan Carmichael plans to dress 18 players for varsity games, many of whom played on the junior varsity team last season.
Leading the way will be senior Jacob Hagist in midfield. Juniors Ben Hodson will manage the defense. And junior forward Noah Jurgensen is the top returning scorer.
Two additions should provide immediate help as well. Carmichael said he expects a lot from freshmen Garrett Huizinga and Jake Wood.
Where last year’s team had size and experience, the 2014 edition will have to rely on different skills to win.
“We’ll be more of a speed and finesse team this year as opposed to last year,” Carmichael said. “We have some tremendous young athletes. Our talent level is high, but the kids have to learn how to be smarter with that talent.”
The Cougars should be well-prepared for another tournament run. Their schedule features Edgewood and county rivals Greenwood and Whiteland among several Class 2A teams.
“That’s a tough schedule for a Class A school,” Carmichael said. “But I like playing stronger schools so that we’re better for October.”
First-year coach Justin VanHorn looks to build on the improvements made last year by the Warriors.
VanHorn, who was an assistant coach at Whiteland the past three seasons, takes over a program with a healthy balance of experience and youth.
The Warriors lost only two seniors from last year’s 6-7-2 squad and have only two seniors this year. But a 10-man junior class that showed potential a year ago will again serve as cornerstone for the team.
Carter Beers (defender), Bailey Shives (goalkeeper), Cody Smith (midfield) and Jordan Thomas (midfield) are the foundation of that junior class and will provide leadership for the entire team.
“That’s a really strong class,” VanHorn said. “Those are our core guys.”
Eight sophomores and 11 freshmen round out the roster.
VanHorn wants the Warriors to adjust their style of play from recent years.
“We’ve been reactive in the past. We want to be a team that plays our game and makes opponents adjust to us,” he said. “We haven’t been a strong possession team in the past.
“We want to build out of the back and put pressure on teams offensively.”
With the experience of three years in the program and the knowledge of what the youthful Warriors are capable of, VanHorn is looking forward to seeing their efforts on the field.
“I’m really excited about this team,” he said. “This is the most talent we’ve ever had here. With the summer work our guys have put in, they understand where we’re going.”