MANSFIELD – The 2014 Flames have a tough act to follow.
Last year, Mansfield Christian’s boys soccer team made history by making it to the Division III state championship match, finishing as runners-up to Cincinnati Summit Country Day after a 2-1 final.
The Flames lost 12 seniors and their head coach as Jesse Rider stepped down after his only season in charge, unable to devote the time necessary to the program. Despite the changes in personnel, the team looks capable this season.
In Rider’s place is Stephen Armstrong, the junior varsity coach over the past couple seasons.
“We lost 12 seniors, three of whom were starters,” Armstrong said.
Mansfield Christian was 21-2 last year and return a lot of firepower from that squad in senior target Brendam Ernsberger and junior target David Cochran. Junior outside middle fielder Sam Paul had big nights a year ago as well.
Armstrong said leadership and team unity are strengths and he has no concerns entering the year. Ultimately the goal is “to glorify the Lord in all that we say and do on and off the field.”
Three teams in the Ohio Cardinal Conference figure to be vying for a championship at the end of the year between Ashland, Clear Fork and Lexington. All return lots of talent from good squads of a year ago.
“We have a nice group of boys coming back from last year to lead and set (an) example,” Ashland coach Chad Williams said.
The Arrows have five all-league performers back from a team that went 12-5-3.
Clear Fork has a dozen experienced players returning from a 14-3-3 team. The defense will be stout, but coach Brian Kinnard said the Colts need to find consistent scoring.
“We would like to be in a position to challenge for the OCC title and make a deep tournament run,” Kinnard said, adding, “We lost a core of seniors from last year, but have young guns ready to step up to the challenge.”
Lexington was 8-6-4 last year, but bring back 13 letter winners who have the size and speed to make matches difficult for opponents. The Minutemen need to replace OCC Offensive Player of the Year Dillon Thomas and OCC Defensive Player of the Year Mason Dray, plus Sheldon Brown, Kyle Dunlap and John McGlone who are all-league or all-district, but they have the depth to fill holes.
According to coach Peter Them, the Minutemen “want to win an OCC title (and) get back to a district title game.”
Temple Christian is primed for a big season as well. Coming off a 15-7 record, the Crusaders have 18 on the roster for coach Eric Humble.
“Our offense will be our strength,” Humble said. “We feel like we have a really good offense this year and should dominate in that area. We have also been working on speed on the front line.”
The defense lost four seniors so that part of the field is rebuilding, but he thinks he has the talent for that unit to come together in time for the Ohio Christian Schools Athletic Association state tournament.
“We are usually stumped by a team named Hearts for Jesus. Three years ago we took fourth. Two years ago we took third, and last year we took second. We want state this year,” he said.