Column: Looking ahead to the 2018 high school soccer season
This From the Sidelines column appeared in the July 4, 2018 print edition of the News Journal…
With World Cup mania running wild right now, I thought I’d take this opportunity to go ahead and talk a little bit about what we can expect in the upcoming 2018 varsity soccer season.
2017 was a big year for our four coverage area squads, with both Corbin teams advancing to the Elite Eight of the KHSAA state championship tourneys, the Whitley County girls ending the season with a second-best win-loss record in the region of 13-5 and the Whitley boys showing signs of continued improvement, nearly knocking off North Laurel in round one of the 49th District tournament.
This fall should be very interesting, with all area teams being in the similar position of bringing back a good amount of talent while also trying to figure out how to replace key players that were lost to graduation. Let’s take a look at each group individually…
Corbin boys – The Hounds went 13-6 last year, falling to South Laurel 3-0 in the finals of the 49th District tourney. They got their revenge against the Cardinals a week later in the 13th Region tournament finals, however, winning 1-0 to qualify for the 2017 KHSAA state championship tournament.
At state, the Hounds bested Pikeville 2-1 in round one before falling to Ryle 4-1 in the quarterfinals at Lexington’s Frederick Douglass High School.
Similar to region championship years in the past, Head Coach Armando Cima relied heavily on an experienced group of veteran players that included goalkeeper Nathaniel Bingham, as well as Jacob Johnson, Chris Lebanion, Jordan Lockaby, Lucas Martin, Jack Schuhmann, JP Winchester and Lawrence Lewis.
Now, with the 2018 season quickly approaching, Coach Cima is again counting on several senior players to lead the charge as Corbin seeks to defend their 13th Region crown. Among those vets will be top scorer Trey Cima, who will no doubt be the key factor in the Redhounds’ success on the pitch, or lack thereof.
Fans can expect Cima and company to come out ready to take care of business this fall, though. With strong leadership once again in place, as well as a roster that looks to feature capable talent from top-to-bottom, Corbin should probably be considered the favorites to make it back to state competition.
Corbin girls – There is a bigger question mark hanging over the Lady Hounds this offseason as they are having to contend with the departure of an ultra-talented senior group that included Tristan Gibbs, Savannah Finley, Carly Stone, Nikki Wells, goalkeeper Olivia Jones and all-time leading scorer Abby Baker.
That, to put it mildly, is a lot of talent to lose all at once. Still, Head Coach Hannah Goins and her staff have much to remain optimistic about with a capable group of young and experienced players retuning to the pitch this fall.
On the experienced side, you have names such as seniors Sarah Fryer and Rachel Bonnell. These Lady Hounds, along with their fellow senior teammates, have been along for the history-making ride the last few seasons, and they know what it takes to succeed at a high level.
On the younger side, Goins will hope to see a host of underclassmen willing to step up and take on leadership roles. If that happens, then Corbin should be a serious contender again this season. If not, they may struggle somewhat as they try to find their way without those athletes that have led the program to new heights in recent years.
It may be a rocky start for the Lady Hounds in 2018, but expect them to pull together and begin playing their best soccer when it matters most. By the end of the season they will likely be in the hunt to contend for more district and regional titles.
Whitley County boys – The Colonels had the personnel to take big steps forward last season with seniors Aaron Gibbs, Christian Sharpe, Jesse Sutton, Payton Watson and Luke Wilson leading the charge, but in the end they only managed a disappointing five wins.
Whitley has seen several fantastic individual performers come and go in recent years, but they have not yet been able to put together a total team effort that will allow them to compete with the likes of Corbin or South Laurel. In fact, the only 13th Region opponent they have consistently bested lately has been the Middlesboro Yellow Jackets, who struggle year-in and year-out to win more than a couple of games.
Still, the Colonels ended their 2017 campaign on a high note, playing what was probably their best game of the season and nearly knocking off the North Laurel Jaguars in round one of the 49th District tournament.
It was a double-edged sword for Head Coach Jarred Earnest. On one hand, he was thrilled to see this type of a showing from his squad. On the other hand, it was still a losing effort that once again brought a close to their season in the first round of a district tourney.
The question now is, can this team pick up where they left off and finally work their way into the conversation about who could appear in a 13th Region tournament?
Only time will tell, but if Whitley can finally put the pieces together – look out. With a few veteran leaders expected to return, including senior Neel Patel, the Colonels have a real chance to surprise people in region competition this fall. Large junior and sophomore classes should help considerably in this effort, as the program hopes to finally get over the hump and secure some major victories that will set the stage for bigger and better things to come.
The culture surrounding soccer at Whitley County has continued to grow and improve over the years, and there will never be a better time than right now for the boys team to emerge as legitimate contenders to some of our area’s traditional powers. Again, only time will tell if that will be the case, but the potential is definitely there.
Whitley County girls – 2018 could truly be a special year for Head Coach Kelly Sawyers and the Whitley County Lady Colonels. Last fall this team solidified themselves as a serious threat to anyone in the region, scoring a ton of goals en route to a very successful 13-win season.
Unfortunately for the Lady Colonels, all of that success did not result in a 13th Region tournament appearance, but an 8-1 victory over Oneida Baptist Institute in the first round of the 49th district tourney gave them the elusive postseason win that they had been looking for for so long.
Seniors Raeanne Barton, Lilly Dennis-Bay, Savannah West, Hope Siler and goalkeeper Carolann Schupanitz each played a significant role in Whitley’s great year on the pitch in 2017, but an equally talented crop of incoming seniors are hoping to take things a step further this fall.
Players such as Jaine Stephens, Jacqueline Oliphant, Lilly Rice, Haley Hamblin and Haven Gilley will team up with sophomore Reis Anderson, junior Madison Broyles and several others to form a unit that could legitimately give teams like Corbin, South Laurel and North Laurel a run for their money.
If the Lady Colonels play up to their full potential, the sky is truly the limit. They have taken steps in the right direction each season in recent years, and the next logical step is to now put themselves in contention for a district crown. I personally think they’ll do it.
So, there you have it. My thoughts on what to expect from each of our coverage area’s high school soccer teams in the coming fall season. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds, and I hope to see many of you from the sidelines!