Despite the loss of 14 graduates – and with just four returning starters – the St. Henry boys’ soccer team last week managed to win its second regional title in 10 months.
The defending Ninth Region champion defeated Holy Cross, 2-1, in the Touchstone Energy All “A” Classic Ninth Region final on Saturday at St. Henry.
Junior midfielder Ian Manahan and senior forward Jack Neltner scored for the Crusaders. Assists were made by sophomore midfielder Josh Bisbee and junior midfielder D.J. Sanders.
“It was exciting because we played from behind,” St. Henry coach Stephen Hahn said. “We were down 1-0 at halftime but were able to get those goals.”
St. Henry defeated Newport Central Catholic, 3-1, in the semifinals. Sanders scored twice, and Neltner added a goal. Sanders, Neltner and Manahan were on the assists.
Sanders leads the team with nine goals scored. Neltner is next with four. Junior forward Nick Tolbert has two. Neltner leads the team with five assists. Sanders and junior midfielder Andrew Jacobs are tied for second, each with three assists.
The defense is keyed by central back David Stambaugh and goalkeeper Tate Johnson.
“We have six seniors, not nearly as many as last year. But we have good young players, and the guys are positive. We’ve beaten some battle-tested, senior-dominated teams already this year.”
St. Henry improved to 5-1 with Tuesday’s 2-1 upset win over Henry Clay, fourth in the Maher state rankings. Sanders scored both goals, with assists from Jacobs and Neltner. St. Henry is ranked 16th statewide.
Sanders has four goals and three assists in less than a week. He started strong, scoring three goals in the second game of the season and two in the third game, helping St. Henry get on track following a 5-0 season-opening loss to returning regional runner-up Covington Catholic, ranked first by local coaches.
The Crusaders have won five straight. They are ranked second locally.
“I think the thing I’m most pleased with is our combination play from midfield going forward,” Hahn said. “The top is really starting to come together by connecting the dots, which means we’ll be really tough going forward.”
They continue action with Thursday’s contest at Simon Kenton followed by a Saturday home game against Villa Madonna.
The Crusaders return to All “A” Classic play Sept. 17 at home against the 10th Region champion in a one-match playoff that sends the winner to the small-school state tournament. Favored Bishop Brossart, ranked third locally and 14th statewide, is the defending 10th Region champ and last year’s state runner-up. The Mustangs won the 2013 All “A” state crown.
The Region 9/10 winner plays the Region 13/14 champ at 1 p.m. in a Sept. 26 first-round state contest in Frankfort. Semifinals are that night. The All “A” Classic final is the next day at 1 p.m. Louisville Collegiate is defending champion.