One thing on the boys soccer circuit is clear this season.
There are no Top 10 national teams in the area.
Defending Class 4A state champion Chiles’ 2014-15 season (29-3) was historic, but this will come at the expense of the whopping 14 seniors it graduated.
The Timberwolves’ next group up, inexperienced aside from two returning starters, has been working the last eight months to keep from experiencing a program drop-off.
“The hardest thing for them now is believing they can accomplish great things,” Chiles coach Bryan Wilkinson said. “When you have a team like that that leaves, players that are vocal, that have played together for years, you’re trying to find who will step up.”
Goaltender Logan Henry and midfielder Bailey Knapp hope to provide the leadership to get the Timberwolves another district title and maybe more.
“The first half of the season for us will be building discipline, character and organization,” Wilkinson added. “Then we’ll see how good we are.”
After a 2-0 loss to district opponent Lincoln already, Chiles is aware that it still has a giant bulls-eye on its back.
“We know that every team we play we’ve got a reputation,” Wilkinson said. “I feel like we handle ourselves well. I don’t feel we’re arrogant. I think we’re grateful for the chance we’ve been given. But that doesn’t mean teams don’t want to embarrass us. They want to beat us and beat us heavily.”
Last year’s senior class was marked by the twice-a-day workouts it implemented— once at 6 a.m. for strength and conditioning, and again in the afternoon for practice.”
This year, both the varsity and JV are doing it, and last year’s star goal scorers Jimmy Gillard, Ian Hildebrandt and Corey Osgood are helping out.
“They’ve lived it, been there and done it,” Wilkinson said. “They want these kids to do well. The program has a pride of wanting to be successful.”
Wilkinson expects to take a hit to the record during the year, much the same way things worked seven years ago when he first started.
The first 3-4 years were about preparing for the postseason. After that, the foundation and veteran leadership was there.
This year’s group is starting the cycle all over again.
“It literally took years worth of work to win a state title,” Wilkinson said. “You learn things you can’t prepare for. This year is a new season of lessons to learn.”
Lincoln 2, Leon 1
On Tuesday night at Lincoln, the Trojans scored a second district win of the early season, edging out rival Leon.
Leon scored a goal in the eighth minute by senior Mark Ryan Lescher off a throw-in assist by senior Nick Borger, last seen playing goalie last year.
“We needed a goal scorer,” eighth-year Lions coach Jamie McBrearty said. “He can play anywhere you put him and he could start in goal, but he’s more valuable to us up top. There may be a time we use him in the back, because of his speed. He’s a phenomenal athlete.”
Lincoln equalized three minutes later on a penalty kick by senior Ian ward. Ward assisted on a goal to senior Joshua Monda five minutes after that.
Trojans keeper Eli Lasley made a save before half to keep the lead heading to the break, and the senior should be a major strength of the team this season.
“He’s really come into his own and is being recruited at this point,” Lincoln coach Santiago Molina said. “He’s going to keep up in games.”
Beyond the score, both schools know there’s an opportunity out there that hasn’t necessarily existed in the past.
“There’s definitely been seasons going in where we knew it would be tougher, but this year it is very even,” McBrearty said. “The group knows that and has set some goals as a group. But it is still a process to get better each game.”
Said Molina: “It’s going to be whoever wants it more in many of these games,” Molina said. “Every game is going to be competitive and no one is going to give an inch.”
Around the area
Maclay will miss first-team All-Big Bend players Matt Deal and Matthew Sweeney, but the Marauders return second-team defender Kirby Allen.
Wakulla brings back junior Jordan Trussel off a sophomore season where he set a school record for goals.
Florida High returns largely intact from last year’s regional final team, though the Seminoles losses of midfielder and leading scorer David Mkoji along with defenders Jackson Keillor, Andres deTorres and Anthony Cruz are significant.
That said, Florida High has scoring threats in Michael Williams Jr., Nick Milligan and Danny Perez, a solid midfielder in Wesley Lamb, plus a veteran keeper in Brandon Krambeck at keeper.
“We have a veteran core,” Seminoles coach Mark McQueen said. “The speed is lacking, but we make up for it in ball possession.”
Florida High lost to Leon, 1-0, last week, the first step in seeing where it stacked up. And the expectations are high in Southwood.
“Their aspirations are state Final Four,” McQueen said. “It’s based off returning talent and what they’ve done before. It sets my goals higher, and I just need to give them the tools to make it that far. It’s a matter of putting the pieces of the puzzle together to make them the most competitive team they can be.”
This year’s Seminoles have already bonded quicker than last season and more people are buying into the team’s goals, according to their coach.
On the field, Florida High must solidify its defense and work on finishing if it wants to reach the state tournament.
Aside from that, the Seminoles believe they’re turning heads locally among the traditional boys soccer powers.
Said McQueen: “As we continue to play these teams, they’ll see we’re just as good as they are.”