David Barnett wasn’t sure what to expect when he took over the Centerville boys soccer team in 2011.
He had a young squad with just three seniors and two juniors on a 22-player roster.
What he got after a slow start was an 8-10 season that included the Bulldogs’ second sectional title in school history and a regional championship appearance.
Union County started a fresh soccer program three years ago too and made it to last season’s sectional championship, before falling victim to the Bulldogs.
With just three teams from Tri-Eastern Conference schools — Centerville, Union County and Union City — with soccer teams, the area teams look to use their regular seasons to improve for the sectional tournament and beyond.
Centerville won a Class A sectional title in 2011, the first year soccer was split into two classes.
“What’s been neat to see is the system that we implemented last year carrying over into a second year,” Barnett said. “We had a strong freshman class last year, they focused on the sport all offseason, played on some club sports — I see a lot more confidence, straight up confidence.”
The Bulldogs lost just three seniors, but one of those was Trevor Stout, who transferred from Florida for his senior year and tied the school record with 26 goals.
This year’s squad returns just one senior in defender Kyle Jones and a lot of younger players who have already set the bar high with last year’s success.
“They understand there’s a target on their back,” Barnett said. “We might experience some losses, (but) we’re preparing for sectionals, we’re preparing for the tournament. With no soccer in the TEC, our focus isn’t on winning the conference — we want to beat the teams from those schools, of course — but our focus is on getting better and improving for the sectional.”
Jones will be one of two team captains and key defenders along with junior Karl Maurer.
Cody Weiss, also a junior, provided some offense during sectional time a year ago and looks to do the same, along with sophomores David Hatch and Trevor Miller.
“They’re going to be vital to our offense,” Barnett said. “Kyle Jones and Karl Maurer will be the back bone, we have a great support cast, I could see how they’ve grown.”
Eight freshmen joined the picture and Barnett says Ricardo Torres should make a quick impact.
Rising senior Brett Stoughton stepped up late in the season last year to overtake the goalkeeper position, but decided to focus on swimming this year after making the state tournament last year.
Sophomores Levi Kincaid and Casey Crumbaugh are battling for the goalie slot this year.
The Bulldogs kick off their season at the New Castle Invitational on Saturday. They travel to Union City Sept. 17 and host Union County on Sept. 27.
“I’m excited. I want to see what happens,” Barnett said. “They surprised me so far, I just want to see them in action.”
The Patriots have come a long way in two years of existence, and head coach Brian Nixon looks to take them further this season.
The team struggled to get in the win column last year, but reached a sectional championship and finished 4-8-2.
Nixon returns for his second year full-time with the team and is greeted by a program that now has plenty of seasoning and experience.
Five seniors have played three years in Ryan Abbott, Blake Frasur, William Mundy, Jacob Benencassa and Elijah Oswald.
Abbott and Garritt Persinger are expected to be leading strikers, and Oswald is looking to play his third season at goalie, Nixon said.
The coach has liked what he has seen so far in preseason practice and believes the team can add some W’s to its record.
“You can teach a child how to play any sport but if they don’t have the determination and drive for implementing the skills that they’ve been taught, that’s the difference between a winning program and a non-winning program,” Nixon said.
“They really stepped it up as far as the summer goes, a lot of the kids have grown in stature. We’ll probably be able to maybe hold our own, they’re really showing a lot of heart and determination this season.”
The Patriots start the season Saturday at Delta. then play five straight home games against South Dearborn, Franklin County, Middletown (Ohio), Knightstown and Rushville. Seton Catholic pays a visit Sept. 26. The Pats play their home games at the high school football field.
“Coach (Brad) Abbott’s been a huge help to me this year, big thanks to him and all of our kids for all of our determination and all of their hard work. It’s time to put it on the field,” Nixon said.
“We should be good and I think we can surprise a lot of teams — I think, honestly, we’ll be over .500 this year.”
The Cardinals held their own against Centerville in last year’s sectional semifinal. Coach Greg Stiens hopes that should carry over into this season.
With 10 returning players on a 17-player co-ed roster, the Cardinals have a good shot at success, Stiens said.
Brian Beard, Alex Ruger, John Hornak, Kyle Westjohn and Adam Reimsnyder look to provide senior leadership. Also returning are Charlie Stiens and Brady Gray, among others.
Brian Retter was the top scorer and also returns, but coach Stiens says the team’s specialty is defense.
“We should be a better team this year than we were last year,” he said. “We have a pretty solid defense, we have our goalie, Adam Reimsnyder and we have our top defensive person John Hornak.
“On offense, we have Brady Gray, Charlie Stiens — we have some nice additions also — speed, some kids that didn’t play last year, we’re looking pretty good.”
The Cardinals start their season next Monday at Milan. They play seven home games, all at Freeman Park, on Aug. 24, 27, 31 and Sept. 7, 14, 20 and 28. Centerville visits Aug. 27 and Union City does Sept. 14. The Cardinals also travel to Tri-Village on Aug. 28 and Union County Sept. 26.
“We’re excited about the year,” coach Stiens said. “I think we’re a better team than we were last year, we have a great group of young kids that we get to work with. They’re quick learners and they enjoy each other and work well together.”
Union City starts its season Aug. 23 at home against Muncie South. The Indians play four home games in a brief seven-game schedule.