By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
The Model Laboratory Patriots enter the 2013 soccer season looking for their third consecutive district regular season and tournament titles.
The Patriots were undefeated in both the regular season and district tournaments in both 2011 and 2012, while compiling a combined 29-5-5 overall record.
In 2013, coach Steve Savage is faced with replacing four seniors from last year’s team, including leading scorer J.J. Reisig and goalkeeper Turner Curtis.
But opponents who think the Patriot cupboard will be bare this season are mistaken.
Model returns seven seniors from last year’s team, who all saw extensive playing time — Levi Agee, Jay Biven, Taylor Gentry, Travis Taulbee, Andrew Wylie, Chris Wylie and Peter Yin — as well as senior newcomer Jack Frisbee, who Savage expects to be a big contributor.
“We lost quite a bit from last year with J.J. and Tanner in goal, but I think we are probably rebuilding less than the other teams in the district,” Savage said. “We still have a lot of guys who have played together for a long time who got to play some last year, so we still have quite a bit of experience returning.”
Along with the seniors, Savage said several freshmen and sophomores, who also got a lot of playing time last year, will be seasoned veterans this time around.
That experience across the board, Savage said, will be one of the strengths of this year’s team.
Model was a high-scoring machine last season, outscoring its district opponents 17-1 in regular season games, with Reisig doing most of the damage.
Savage said he thinks this year’s team can be just as explosive, but the scoring will be more balanced.
“We’re going to miss J.J. But we played three games in the Bluegrass State Games this month and we scored 15 goals and only gave up two goals,” Savage said. “So we still have scoring, but it is going to come from a lot of different places now. A lot of people are going to have to contribute more than they did last year, so it’s going to be an interesting season.”
As for having a target on their backs and the pressure of being defending district champs, Savage said he thinks his returning players have been through the wars enough to handle it.
“The boys have been to the dance before so they should handle the pressure of being defending champs,” Savage. “Actually I think they will use that as incentive, but we’ll find out.”
Madison Southern (14-6-0)
The Madison Southern Eagles are coming off a 14-6 season in 2012.
The Eagles finished second to Model in the regular season and were also runner-up to the Patriots in the 44th District tournament, suffering a 4-3 loss in the championship game.
Southern will be a much younger team this year, having lost 11 players to graduation.
The Eagles return seven seniors for the 2013 season — Tyler Conley, Lukas Gabbard, Nick Prior, Elijah Sexton, Chad Wagers, Nick Wallace, and Jamison Wyrik — who played quite a bit last year, but coach James Ray said his team lacks experience playing together.
“We had some injuries last year and some of these young kids like Tanner Kidwell and Garrison Copper, had to step in and got some experience at different times, so we have some kids with experience,” Ray said. “But they haven’t played together as a unit. What it is going to come down to for us this year is how long it takes for us to pull some of these other kids along and getting everybody to play on the same page.”
Ray said he never wants his teams to be playing their best in August, so he will have patience with his team as it feels its way through some early season growing pains that only time on the field together will alleviate.
“We have a good core group of seniors who are anxious to get out and play. They have worked hard and I think their leadership and direction are going to help this group along,” Ray said. “Our aim is to try to continue to get better, use all the scrimmages, camp, the Bluegrass State Games and everything to get as much time on the field together as we can. Hopefully we learn from everything and put ourselves in good shape in October when the district rolls around.”
Each of his teams have played different styles, Ray said, based on the strengths of the players. It is too soon he said to say just what that style will be this year, but he will adapt to whichever players are on the field.
“We try to find where our strong points are that will give us the best chance to win and play to those strengths, so it changes from year-to-year,” Ray said. “We don’t always use the same lineup the entire year. Whoever is playing the best is going to get the opportunity. I tell the kids they might not be starting early but they might be starting in the district tournament. That keeps everybody playing hard and being competitive.”
Ray said he thinks by tournament time his team will be a contender in the district.
“I feel like this group definitely has an opportunity to have a strong year,” Ray said. “They expect to come out and win and be competitive with other teams in the district and they want to keep on building off what the previous couple of year’s seniors have done.”
Madison Central (8-12-0)
The Madison Central Indians find themselves in very familiar territory as they begin the 2013 season with a new coach.
Evan Sutherland is the fourth Indians coach in the past five years.
He inherits a team that lost 13 seniors to graduation, but which still has 12 seniors returning.
But even with those seniors, the Indians will be a relatively inexperienced team, Evans said, because only a third of them got quality minutes in varsity games last year.
Three of those — Addison McCoy, Logan Baker and Luke Hall — will be counted on to provide leadership to an otherwise young team.
“We have about four to six freshmen who will get quality minutes, so Addison, Logan and Luke will probably be our team captains and our leaders,” Baker said. “Three of our freshmen, Luc Powell, Peyton Netherton and Sam Perkins, will be starting. And although they don’t have experience at the high school level, Luke and Peyton have experience playing club soccer at a very, very high level nationally.”
Many times senior-laden teams have a hard time adjusting to a new coach, but Sutherland, said that has not been a problem with his team.
“They are all buying into the program and what we are trying to teach and trying to get across to them,” he said. “They are all extremely smart and coachable kids. They know my background and where I come from and that it is in their best interest that I am coming in to help get them to the next level.”
The Indians will look to push the ball on offense, Sutherland said, and will be a diversified offense.
“We want to spread our scoring out. We would like to see six or seven guys score 10 goals each,” he said. “We want to get some scoring from our midfield, from Logan and from Luke Powell and Peyton and Ethan Fielder. If we can do that then we’ll be pretty successful.”
Sutherland said his team is further along than he thought it would be at this point in the young season, but still can improve.
“What I saw out of them on Saturday (at the Madison Southern Soccerama) was a big leap ahead of what I saw in the Bluegrass State Games. I’ve seen a lot of progress,” Sutherland said. “I’ve been pleased with the progress of our freshmen. The young guys are stepping into roles and taking ownership and basically going from being a freshman now to becoming a sophomore by midseason. That kind of growth is what we are looking for the rest of the year.”
Defensively, Central will by young in the backfield, but will have one of its most experienced players, Ben Durham, in goal, who Sutherland said must be a coach on the field.
“Ben is a third-year starter in goal and I feel really good having him back there,” Sutherland said. “We work with him every day about talking to his teammates, giving directions, being a leader on the field and he is doing a great job of that.”
Berea Community (2-16-1)
The Berea Pirates will once again be the youngest team in the district in 2013.
The Pirates lost four seniors from last year’s team and have only one senior, Matt Rose, returning, so coach Casey Poynter knows his team will experience some growing pains this year.
“We are a sophomore and junior-heavy team, but our juniors are lacking experience at the varsity level. We have a first-year goal keeper and across the board we are have players playing positions they’ve never played before, so we know it is going to take some time,” Poynter said. “We have players who are coming in with very, very, little experience and we are asking a great deal from them so we will be a work in progress.”
Two players who will be counted on to carry the load offensively for the Pirates are juniors Neil Claytor and Austin Warford.
On the defensive side, midfielders Derek Castle and Austin Rose will be the stalwarts, Poynter said.
“I feel like our team is built to have a strong midfield and Derek and Austin are naturals for it. They are smaller height-wise, but they have a lot of speed and are very aggressive and put forth a lot of effort,” Poynter said. “Those two can really be the swinging point for our season if they can pick up what we are asking them to do.”
Poynter said with such a young team, improvement is not so much measured in wins and loses, but in how much the team improves over the course of the season.
“Growth for this team is not about wins. It can’t be. You will see growth from the beginning of the season to late October. If you can go from a non-competitive team at the beginning of the season to a competitive team at the end of the season, that’s what you are looking for.”
The preseason has been a time for him to see some of his younger players in different positions to see what is the best fit for his team to be successful.
And while they might be inexperienced, Poynter said they have not lacked enthusiasm thus far.
“One thing I’ve noticed from day one in the preseason is that this group are extremely good kids and they are applying the things that we talk about,” he said. “Sometimes at the high school level you might find a handful of kids who understand and put forth the effort. But this group. I can’t think of one player who has not given 100 percent from day one and there is a lot to be said for that.”