Local boys’ soccer coaches are bracing themselves for a season full of close encounters, something not altogether alien to them after last year’s epic clashes produced soaring highs for the winners and plummeting lows for the losers. The high school schedule starts Monday.
“There are a lot of strong teams in Northern Kentucky, and there should be some really good games,” said Highlands coach Matthew Winkler, whose squad survived a gantlet of deadlocks and postseason overtimes in 2013 to win a regional title.
The local defending champions are Highlands in the Ninth Region and Bishop Brossart in the 10th Region. Simon Kenton fell two wins short of a state berth with a loss in the Eighth Region tournament.
Simon Kenton, defending 32nd District champion, has an uphill battle in its attempt to win the Eighth Region. The Pioneers lost more than a dozen seniors from a roster of 24. This year, they have eight seniors. District runner-up Walton-Verona, a 1-0 loser to the Pioneers in the final, lost five from a squad of 16. The Bearcats have four seniors, but the roster is bigger.
Bishop Brossart remains a favorite in the 10th Region despite heavy graduation losses. Scott, last year’s runner-up to the Mustangs, is the strongest local challenger. Brossart, the defending All “A” Classic state champion, returns more than a dozen players with significant experience, including Mark Goller, Jon Henn and goalkeeper Jeff Paulin. Among the talented Eagles is goal scorer Luke Treadway.
In the Ninth Region, the top two teams in each district entertain legitimate shots at the crown.
“The region could be eight deep. There’s going to be a lot of parity, and anybody could come out that, so what I think we’re going to see is a lot of close games,” Ryle coach Stephen Collins said. “Covington Catholic is maybe the favorite. Six or seven other teams will look pretty strong by the end of the season, and we hope we’re one of them.”
Ryle, a traditional power, won 12 regular-season games in 2013 but suffered a similar fate as fellow stalwart St. Henry. Both lost in the first round of the regional tournament. Boone County, the highest-scoring team and winner of the most regular-season games, and Holy Cross joined them as early outs. They won a combined 41 games. “That’s a pretty strong group,” Collins said. “And all of them should be better.”
They’ll have to be. Regional finalists Highlands and Newport Central Catholic and semifinalists CovCath and Dixie Heights think they are improved in key areas.
Highlands lost firepower but returns five starters, including goalkeeper Nick Breslin, a returning coaches’ association all-star. Three top scorers are back for NewCath. Defender Jacob Hensley, a 2013 first-team all-state pick, and keeper Paul Grosser, a first-team local all-star, are the base of the Thoroughbreds’ staunch defense. Patrick Louis is a top midfielder and assist man.
Dixie returns three of its top five scorers, including Andres Rivera (13 goals). CovCath features the scoring of Jacob Litzler, Patrick Ballow and Brice Day and the defense of Patrick Kenney. Ryle welcomes back six starters, including all-state honorable mention sweeper Nathan Roe and scorer Suli Kayed. St. Henry is led by defender Alex Green. Haven Borkowski (14 goals) and Brett Mayberry are back for Boone County.
Holy Cross lost just four players. Cooper has explosive scorers. Conner is young but talented. Holmes has strong numbers. With better defense, any of them could surprise.
“It’s pretty wide open this year,” Dixie Heights coach Jeff Scroggin said. “Everybody feels like they have a chance.”
NKY soccer aiming for 1st title
For the first time since 2007, Northern Kentucky last year failed to advance a boys’ soccer team to the KHSAA state tournament semifinals. The area still is looking for its first state championship. But some believe that could change very soon.
“It’ll happen,” said Ryle coach Stephen Collins, who guided the Raiders to a state runner-up finish in 2011. “There’s too much good coaching and too many good players in our area.”
Highlands, the Ninth Region champion, and Bishop Brossart, champion of the 10th Region, bowed out of the 2013 state tournament before the semifinals. Highlands advanced to the state semifinals in 2008. CovCath earned the semifinals in 2009. Scott made the semis in 2010. Boone County made it in 2012.
Many coaches view last season’s local state tournament performance as an anomaly that should be corrected this fall.
“I think the team that gets out of the region will have an excellent chance to make the state final,” CovCath coach Jeremy Robertson said. “But we all know anything can happen.”
The unexpected happened last year in the Ninth Region, and the outcome could have taken a variety of forms with just one kick.
Highlands beat rival Newport Central Catholic, 1-0 in overtime in the tournament final. NewCath beat CovCath, 1-0 on penalty kicks in the semifinals. NewCath escaped Boone County, 2-1 in the first round. Dixie Heights won by a single goal against first-round opponent Holy Cross. Four of the seven regional matches were decided by a goal. Three went to overtime.
During the 2013 season, Boone County, CovCath, NewCath, St. Henry and Ryle beat the eventual regional champion Bluebirds. But Highlands beat NewCath twice, and defeated Ryle, Dixie Heights and non-regional powers Bishop Brossart, Scott and Simon Kenton once each.
“That’s the way it’s going to be this year, I think. Everybody is going to beat each other,” Collins said. “But whoever gets out of the Ninth Region will have a chance to win state.”
– Marc Hardin