After a historic season, the Madison Southern boys soccer team hopes to continue to build upon that success.
Last year was Andrew's Lunsford's first as the head coach for the Eagles and he said he could not have asked for a better start.
"People joke with me all the time that we did too much my first season. They ask us how we are going to top it," Lunsford said. "When I came in last year, the goal was to win districts. That was the end-all."
However, the Eagles did much more than that.
Not only did Southern claim its first district championship in 13 years, the Eagles went on to claim their first-ever 11th Region Tournament victory.
Southern had lost 12-straight regional tournament games before beating Franklin County last October, 2-1. The Eagles had dropped games in the 11th Region (2012-
2017), 14th Region (2005, 2010) and the 15th Region (2000, 01, 02 and 03) prior to that.
The Eagles historic run was ended by Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1-0, in the 11th Region semifinals, but the Eagles still finished the season with their best record (13-5-1) since 2012.
"Last year was a very special year," Lunsford said. "However, I think what got us there last year is what we are going to build upon this year. We know we are contenders and that has brought so much to the program. For us, it feels like we left off the season with more motivation. We were very close to the 11th Region title."
This season, the Eagles will be without six of the regular starting seniors from last year's historic streak.
Southern lost their two leading scorers, Evan Farley and Kole Linville, who accounted for 22 of the team's 56 goals last season. Linville was also the team's leader in assists with six.
Lunsford said that even with a big chunk of last season's team gone, the Eagle still boasts six seniors and a host of vital players from last year.
"Samuel Lee was a captain for defense last year and he has kept that role," Lunsford said of the senior who had two goals and two assists last season.
Junior Pierce Meeks, who was one of the team's most active scorers last year with seven goals and three assists, has also stepped into a leadership role this year.
"He really gained the team's respect and now they see the hard work he's putting in and he has really stepped up in leading the team," Lunsford said.
The coach said while the team may have had to fill in some large holes in its roster, the Eagles have a good core of experienced players on the field.
Chase Hechemy, who had three goals and two assists, will also return this year for the Eagles.
"Sam, Alex, Pierce and Chase -- they all have two to three years of experience of varsity time already," Lunsford said. "Zach Sadler, he's a junior this year, has been a mainstay on the team, as well."
The coach said the team has also been lucky in filling the void left by former keeper Tanner Hatfield, who played a vital role last season in earning the Eagles its first district championship in more than a decade.
Hatfield made a crucial save during the penalty kick shootout final game of the 44th District Tournament that ended Madison Central's reign as district champs.
Hatfield had six shutouts last season and more than 80 saves.
"I think we have the best two goalies in the district, honestly," Lunsford said of junior Alex Masters and sophomore Austin Shepherd.
Last season, Shepherd recorded one shutout and two saves.
In addition to the upperclassmen, Lunsford said a third of the roster this season will be freshman.
"We have six new people in starting positions… We have 13 freshman coming in who all have club experience and we have five or six who are on the varsity roster. We have some talented young guys that will be playing for starting time. I think we are even deeper talent-wise that what we were last year," Lunsford said.
That depth will come in handy early as the Eagles face a tough schedule in the beginning of the season.
Southern's first two games will be on the road as they face Danville on Aug. 13 and Montgomery County on Aug. 17.
The Eagles first home game will be against district foe Berea Community on Aug. 20.
"One thing we did last year that I think really helped us what that we tested ourselves early. We want to keep doing that and try to hone our skills against some really good teams," Lunsford explained.
The coach said the team also hopes to hit the ground running and ignite the spark that carried them to a district championship last season.
"We were successful last year with working to put players in positions where their natural talents came out. This year, we hope to do the same. I am very excited to see what that looks like on the field. Our goal will always be, Can we keep making our guys better soccer players?" Lunsford said.
Regardless how the season shakes out, the coach said he expects his team to be competitors once again.
"The thing about having a really good, young team is you don't exactly know when everything is going to fall into place. It will be some exciting soccer one way or another. We should still be pretty competitive in the districts. We also want to be one of the best teams in the state. We will just have to see," Lunsford said.
After a tough season in which they were unseated as the district champion by cross county rival Madison Southern, the Indians will look to recapture the title with a young talented team.
"To be honest, we didn't meet our expectations last year. I don't think we gelled as a team…. Losing two games to Madison Southern -- it was tough. However, I think that loss has re-motivated everyone and we have got some good leadership so far from our returning players," Central coach Ron Horn said.
The Indians had won five-straight district championships before falling last season to Southern in a 1-0 penalty kick shootout.
Central then went on to face eventual 11th Region champions Lafayette in the first round of the tournament. They fell to the Generals, 2-1, ending their season with a 8-11 record.
"We hope to have a much different season, barring any injuries. We have a new attitude and I feel like we are ready to make a push to try to win another district title," Horn said.
The Indians will be without much of the scoring power from last season after losing nine seniors, including leading scorers Nick Wilson and Will Allen.
"We lost half of our scoring punch -- right at 50 percent of our goals -- so we are finding ways to make up for that," Horn said.
The coach said the team's upperclassman have more than risen to the challenge this season.
Senior midfielder Josh Dluhos has continued to grow on the field after scoring two goals and racking up four assists last season.
"He's a really good soccer player. He has a strong, physical presence and is great at reading the field and distributing the ball," Horn said.
After a season of holding down the defense for the Indians, senior Trent Fornash has moved into more of an attacking role, Horn said.
Senior Daniel Jordan will take over goalie duties left vacant by Jordan Hatcher, who last season recorded four shutouts and more than 60 saves.
Jordan had one shutout and three saves last season.
"He's been our backup keeper for many season and he's ready to step into the spotlight, so to speak," Horn said of Jordan.
Senior Angel Barrera and Eli Hounshell will provide a strong defensive presence for the Indians while solidifying the backline.
"Another senior, Brennan Ashley, has been a solid player on the outside for us. He will provide a lot speed and fitness on the outside and keep us in the attack," Horn said.
Senior Hunter Martin will also join the team this year after taking a few years off from soccer.
For underclassman, sophomore Jon Gordan's performance last season earned him a captain's badge after scoring three goals and two assists for the Indians last season.
"The players look up to him and respect him. They respect him both because of his talent and as a person," Horn said.
Another sophomore proved himself last season for the Indians to earn a spot in the starting rotation.
"Gavin O'Shea has come back as one of our attacking players. He started all the games last season as freshman. I'm very proud of our younger players, it will be interesting to see how much they've grown from last year," Horn said.
The coach said that along with the established players, a lot of young talent will round out the Indians roster.
"We have a lot of young players this year, I think 10 of our players will be getting their first varsity minutes this season. I believe this year we are going to be more even. We will have the combination of talent and leadership," Horn said.
The coach said he feels that his team will be stronger on the defensive end and will have to really hone another strong group of scorers throughout the season.
"That will determined as we go, whether we can find the right pieces or not," Horn said. "I think we are ready, though. We are ready for the challenge."
The Indians will be tested early as they begin the season with back-to-back road games.
Central will open its season against Tates Creek on Aug. 13, before taking on Danville.
Model Laboratory boys soccer coach Steve Savage is hoping to go out with a bang in his final year as the Patriots soccer coach.
Savage announced his retirement this spring after 18 years of coaching.
"It's a lot of fun and it has been a lot of fun. Time has gone by so fast. I'm just going to try and savor it," the coach said of his final season at Model.
Last season, the Patriots finished with a 8-9 record and narrowly missed their shot at contending for the district title before falling to Central 1-0.
Model will return a lot of its core players as the team tries to capture its first district title since 2013.
"We lost about five seniors, which is about normal for us. We lost some speed but we also got some speed. We have a couple of really experienced freshman and a good core of experience coming back," Savage explained.
The Patriots will be without two of their top scorers from last season, Chris Otieno and Michael Otto, who combined accounted for 16 goals and 13 assists between them.
However, Model will return leading scorer senior Thomas Chadwell, who had a team high 15 goals last season and seven assist.
"He was a striker last year for us and he's been shooting really well in practice," Savage said.
Junior Jonathan Crosby, who had eight goals and eight assists last season, will also be returning this season.
"He's really good," Savage said of Crosby. "His select team has won the state title for a couple of years running. He and sophomore Ethan Vice play together year round and they have great communication with one another."
Savage also noted that senior Chris Bentley has grown in his role on the backline as a center stopper.
Cruise Pingleton has also joined the team this year and Savage said the senior has been improving everyday.
"He's got great athleticism. I'm looking forward to him playing and seeing what he can do," Savage said.
Senior Isaac Brown is another new addition to the Patriots this season. Savage said Brown's main sport is swimming, but that he has emerged as a adept soccer player.
Chris Tioukalov rounds out the Patriots strong junior class.
The striker scored six goals last season.
Savage said a lot of his younger players have been stepping up this summer to fight for varsity minutes.
"Tyler Jones is going to be really good for us. He broke his arm, but he should be cleared to play when the regular season starts. I just hope the cast doesn't slow him down. Keshav Bhadari is a good passer," Savage said.
Zack Long will be taking over keeper duties from junior John Benson, who had three shoutouts last season and more than 40 saves.
"We have speed and technique and we do have an experience factor. It's a strange mix, I'll admit. We have small guys that do have the experience. We are small but quick and a good passing team. It should make for an interesting season to see how we can meld that together," Savage said of his team.
The coach's "strange mix" will be put to the test against North Laurel when the Patriots take on the Jaguars in London to open up the season on Aug. 13.
Savage said in scrimmages earlier this summer, his team has proven they will fight back to win.
"We will see if we can make some noise this season," the coach added.
The Berea Community boys soccer team is in a hard reset after winning just one game last season and finishing the year with a 1-13 record.
The Pirates only win came against Paris on Aug. 18.
After that, Berea could never get their offense going again and finished the season on a 12-game skid.
However, led by a new coach for the second year in the row, the Pirates are hoping to turn things around.
First-year head coach Mitchell Plowman said his biggest goal is to bring respect back to the ailing program as the Pirates begin to rebuild.
"For the past three to four years, they have had a new coach every season. At the end of the day, you can have kids who have the talent and skill level, but that doesn't matter if you don't have consistency in your coaches," Plowman said.
The coach, who played soccer for Estill County, said he remembers playing against the Pirates and the reputation the program once had in soccer.
"We want to bring that back to Berea," Plowman said. "The strength these men have overall is amazing. What they have already shown me is their ability to channel their frustrations with their past seasons towards something good, they have heart -- you can't teach heart. They have a dedication and motivation to the program. They are a unit, they are a family."
Plowman said he has been pleased with the talent of his team so far.
Seniors Sean Fagin and Michael Mecham have emerged as leaders for the Pirates.
"These two have played multiple seasons with the team. Michael is the voice of the team right now and he has pure dedication to the team. He is very adaptive, he can speed up or slow down his pace to help others. He has a good mentor role," Plowman said.
Sean's strong skill set and overall technical ability elevate the Pirates this season on the field, the coach said.
"His technical side is very strong. He has the ability to see the play before it develops. He is a leader on both sides of the ball. He has also shown the ability to take responsibility. He not only juggle a full-time job as a lifeguard, he is also a kicker on the football team. His ability to tackle all that and still give high quality effort is amazing," Plowman said.
Sophomore Edwin Ricco has also carved out an important role on the Pirates.
"His soccer IQ is growing daily. He has this great attitude about him and has this instant ability to raise morale. He is always the first one to finish, but goes back and picks up his teammates and encourages them. He not only calls out his teammates for not working hard enough, he is also the first to pat them on the back when they have achieved their goals. He keeps the spirits high on the team and his teammates respect him for it," Plowman said.
The new coach has also been impressed with sophomore John Wallhauser, who earned a starting spot last season as a freshman for the Pirates.
"His ability to pass and see the next play forming is great. I see him as being my Mr. Utility. He's the guy that I can plug into any scenario and he's going to make it happen. I definitely see him have a big year," Plowman said.
The coach said the team has been working on learning the fundamentals and has started to develop into a team that can easily switch players around the field.
Plowman said the team hasn't set any finite goals this year, which he said opens up more possibilities.
"It puts a cap on what you can do. If our goal is to win five games and they do, then they might feel like they peaked. We are focused on making them into the best players and men they can be. How far we go in practice and games is up to them. They will set the pace," the coach said.
Plowman will debut his first season as head coach at Berea to a familiar crowd.
The Pirates will open the season against Estill County in Berea on Aug. 13.
"That's where I'm from. I'm so excited. I've already talked all kinds of smack," Plowman said with a laugh.
The Pirates will face district champions Madison Southern in their first away game on Aug. 20.
"We are really excited about the district play. Those are the teams that hold you back from going to region and state… I think most of those games comes down to who wants it more. I don't see why we can't be the next face of the district at region and state. We want to be competitors," Plowman said.
The new coach said the Pirates are ready to rebuild and are eager to prove themselves this season.
"This Berea team is new and improved. Hopefully, this will be last season where (our competition) is scheduling us for their senior night," Plowman said. "We want that change to begin this season."