It’s a simple saying that has become an inspirational slogan in recent years for the Eagles.
“Focus on the things that we can focus on,” Madison Southern coach Andrew Lunsford said.
That motto has served them well.
The Eagles (12-6-3) have won back-to-back 44th District titles and also advanced to the semifinals of the 11th Region Tournament in 2018.
This year, though, that phrase may have even more significance.
With the delayed start to the year because of COVID-19, a shortened season, some players choosing not to play and a general uncertainty about school, sports and everything else, Lunsford knows there are plenty of potential distractions.
“I keep telling them that if we just keep (staying focused) and keep getting better every day, we are going to be in a good place,” Lunsford said.
The Eagles would like to make another deep postseason run.
And they have a chance to make history, as well.
Southern has never won three-straight district tournament titles.
The Eagles return an interesting mix of seniors and underclassmen that should give them a chance to accomplish that goal.
Still, it won’t be easy.
“I really feel like we are in a Top 10 district in the state,” Lunsford said.
The Eagles bring back seven seniors, three of which have played since their freshman seasons — Pierce Meeks, Alex Echevarria and Zach Sadler. Several others, — Chase Hechemy, Andrew Mayo, Chester Brewer and Kaden Kimble — are mult-year starters as well.
“Most of the seniors in this year’s class have a lot more experience than the seniors in the past couple of classes,” Lunsford said.
Southern has a deep line-up.
The Eagles had 12 different players score at least one goal last season. Two of their top three scores graduated, but there is plenty of offensive firepower on the roster.
“You can’t shut down one our players and stop us from scoring,” Lunsford said. “Some else is going to find a way to put in the net.”
Garrett Wickersham scored nine goals (second-best on the team last season) as a freshman in only 16 games.
“He just makes things happen,” Lunsford said of Wickersham.
Ru Lemmer also had a good freshman season, scoring six goals and adding one assist.
Meeks had six goals and seven assists also.
“We are very flexible with the way we play and where our players play,” Lunsford said.
Sadler leads a Madison Southern defense that allowed only 31 goals last season.
“I think he is one of the best defenders in the state,” Lunsford said of Sadler.
The Eagles also return their top keeper. Junior Austin Shepherd had six shutouts and allowed only 22 goals in 19 games.
“He has matured a lot mental in his game this year and that’s going to help us a lot,” Lunsford said of . He was already very good technically and tactically. Now, he’s developed into a leader on the team.”
Southern is set to open the season Tuesday at district rival Berea Community.
Madison Central (11-7-4)
The Indians suffered hard-fought setbacks to Madison Southern in the title game of the 44th District Tournament the each two seasons.
The heart-breaking losses were decided by just one goal.
Most of the players on this year’s Madison Central roster, though, weren’t on the field during both of those championship match-ups.
The Indians return only four seniors (one of which is injured) after graduating seven players from a team that won 11 games last season.
“We have some talent, but that talent is raw at this point,” Madison Central coach Ron Horn said. “We need to make sure that they can play in those rivalry games and those tense moments.”
The Indians are a bit inexperienced.
The roster features 10 juniors and four sophomores.
That youthful group has plenty of potential in addition to a handful of players who have already had success on the varsity level.
Gavin O’Shea scored a team-best 17 goals last season and added eight assists. The speedy junior forward is a threat to find the net every he get the ball on his foot.
“He’s a great athlete and has a great approach to training and preparation,” Horn said of O’Shea.
No other returner had more than four goals last season for Central.
Junior Sam Hughes (four goals), senior Cohen Kemper (three goals) and junior Jon Gordon (two goals) and others will be asked to contribute more offensively as defenses focus on O’Shea.
“We are going to have to find some pieces to the puzzle,” Horn said. “Gavin was targeted in most games. They put two people in his area all the time.”
Luis Martinez returns to the team after missing a season. He played a lot as a freshman and sophomore, collecting seven points (five goals, two assists).
“He had some big goals in big games,” Horn said of Martinez. “He scored a game in the region tournament.”
Kemper is the most experienced player Central has back this season. The senior is a three-year starter, anchors the defense and can come forward to provide some offense as well.
“He’s very crafty,” Horn said of Kemper. “He’s a good passer and good with the ball on his feet.”
Kemper will be joined in the back by senior Ricky Vasquez, Gordon and sophomore Bradley Ball.
Senior Hunter Enciu injured his knee in the spring and is likely out for the season.
Cameron Whitaker takes over in net after the graduation of Daniel Jordan. The senior appeared in nine games last season, allowing only nine goals.
The future looks bright for the Indians, but they are certainly eager for another shot at a district title this year.
“We are looking pretty good for the next couple of years,” Horn said. “We have a good core group. They have the right attitude and mindset.”
Tim Masthay met with the members of the Model Laboratory soccer team on Feb. 19 after a ceremony at the school where he was announced as the program’s new coach.
He wouldn’t see many of those players together again in the same place for quite some time.
As COVID-19 swept across Kentucky, school activities were canceled.
The Patriots didn’t have their first activity with their new coach until June.
“It’s been an interesting six or seven months,” Masthay said with a laugh. “That’s just the way it is.”
Limited offseason workouts and a delayed start to a shortened season have been unexpected obstacles for a first-year coach.
However, the Patriots are set to bring back seven seniors from a team that won 13 games, including a victory over Lexington Catholic.
“There’s a good core group coming back,” Masthay said. “A couple of kids transferred and a couple of kids opted out. We are a little thin.”
Model graduated its leading scorer (Thomas Chadwell — 19 goals, 13 assists), Jonathan Crosby (16 goals, 14 assists) and Ethan Vice ( three goals, four assists) transferred.
The Patriots still have plenty of offensive threats, though.
Senior Chris Tioukalov had 10 goals and 13 assists last season.
“Chris has great speed,” Masthay said. “He is always dangerous.”
Senior John Benson (eight goals, eight assists) is back, along with sophomore Keshav Bhandari (five goals, 10 assists). Senior Tyler Dedic (three goals) and sophomore Tyler Jones (two goals) return as well as seniors Will Luxon, Cole Taylor (a three-year starter), Milin Shah and Nathan Corder.
Maddox Marks is set to take over in goal.
He has no experience at the varsity level, but Masthay is very encouraged by his progress so far.
“He’s some potential and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do,” the coach said of the freshman keeper.
Masthay was an all-state soccer player at high school in Murray.
He went on to play football at the University of Kentucky, earning All-SEC honors, then won a Super Bowl title with the Green Bay Packers.
Masthay served as a volunteer assistant soccer coach at Center College before taking over the program at Model.
The Kentucky native is excited to begin a new chapter of his life, but with everything else that is going on in the world, he has very realistic expectations.
“Just for the boys to be able to get the games in this season,” Masthay said. “That is the primary goal.”
Berea Community (3-14-1)
John Paul Wideman has played soccer at Berea Community for the past four seasons.
And each year, he has had a different coach.
“It’s been hard for them to have consistency,” first-year Berea Community head coach Jordan Johnson said of the Pirates. “There’s a new gameplan every year.”
Johnson has taken over the program this season, but he is certainly not new to the team.
He was an assistant coach last year, which has made the transition to another new coaching staff much easier.
“I’ve got a good feel for the team,” Johnson said. “So, it is really more of me just taking on a new title.”
The Pirates will have some new additions this season, but also returns some key performers.
Berea has only two seniors.
Wideman played mostly in the mid-field last year, but will move up to striker. He had five goals and two assists as a junior and should be much more of an offensive threat.
“I look for him to have a breakout season,” Johnson said of Wideman.
The only other senior is a newcomer.
Jaylen Dorsey hasn’t played much soccer, but the 6-foot-6 athlete has been working in goal.
He will likely split time in net with freshman Grayson Thomason.
“I’ve got two keepers who are new to our team, but are both very athletic and they will do fine,” Johnson said.
Thomason is part of a big freshman class (seven) that should make a big impact.
Junior Edwin Rocco had a team-best six goals last season. Junior Ben Little, sophomores Peyton Jones and Cannon Cummins are also offensive threats.
Freshmen Caleb Campbell and Andres Correa will lead the Berea defense.
“We have some experience,” Johnson said. “We have some seniors, junior and sophomores, but the freshmen seem to be picking it up quickly.”
Johnson played soccer at district rival Madison Central. After he graduated in 2012, he earned a scholarship at Union College.
The latest head coach at Berea says he has high expectations and wants to restore some stability to the program.
“The sky is the limit,” Johnson said. “I don’t plan on going anywhere.”