MIAMI COUNTY — When the Troy boys soccer team found out it would get a season after all, it was on the practice field.
“It’s been an up and down spring and summer,” Troy coach Richard Phillips said after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s press conference on Tuesday giving the green light to the state’s fall contact sports. “The kids were all enthusiastic. They’ve all been working hard. With the uncertainty when we started, the guys just went at. They put all of that ‘we don’t know what’s going to happen; why are we out here’ kind of thing behind them and just went to work.”
And now that work will pay off as the Trojans are set to kick off their second season in the Miami Valley League Miami Division next week — with soccer being the first contact sport played in Ohio since early March when the COVID-19 pandemic shut them all down.
“They followed all the protocols, the coaches and the players,” Phillips said. “We tried as best we could to keep our distance and things like that. The guys were really diligent in what they were asked to do. Ask to wear masks, they wear masks.”
In fact, the Trojans even found some benefits working on the field.
“For us, before we started running with the ball — you see teams bunching up on the field in our sport — but for us, with COVID, it forced us to stay apart and keep our distance,” Phillips said. “Usually, you start getting on them for not spreading out for the game itself and bunching things up. So COVID has forced us to not bunch up.
“The kids really worked hard, and they deserve credit for that. And not knowing what was going to happen, also — every day or every other day, things were changing on us. But we had to keep going at it. Because why do we train? To play the game. So today was a good day for us, and they were happy with the announcement.”
And on the field, even though the Trojans graduated the MVL’s leading scorer last year in Elijah Williams, they return their next three leading scorers in seniors Jon Hipolito (13 goals, five assists), Gavin Marshall (11 goals, 18 assists) and Sam Kazmaier (eight goals, three assists).
Also returning in Troy’s large senior class is Jaden Williams, Gavin Marshall, Caleb Steggeman, Ben Estrada and Winston Walton. The Trojans also welcome four freshmen to the team in Sam Westfall — one of the team’s two keepers — Bobby Gearhardt, Julian Polverini and Robert Cox. Juniors Sean Miller — the other keeper — and Mitchell Davis also saw time on varsity, with Evan Joins, Lucas Buschur and Aydan Weaver joining the team.
“We have 16 players, 14 field and two keepers, and there’s a lot of work to be done the young kids working with the seniors,” Phillips said. “The leadership will come from our senior class.”
And with the MVL going to a league-only schedule, the Trojans lose a number of quality opponents — but will still have to contend with last year’s Division II state champion Tippecanoe, the defending MVL champion, as well as Butler and Sidney.
“We would’ve opened up with Carroll, which is one of the top teams in the state this year. That could’ve been a good yardstick to see where we are,” Phillips said. “But Tippecanoe, being a state champion last year, will be a challenge for us, a challenge for everyone. (Tippecanoe coach) Scott (Downing) will always have them ready to play.
“As always, we want to compete in the MVL. But we also want to work with these young players and get them to play together with the older guys, molding a team. That’s really what we’re looking at this year, having a complete team and getting these young guys to be complementary to the more experienced guys.”
Expectations are always high for Tippecanoe.
Coming off of its first state championship? Even more so.
And while tthis year’s Red Devils have seen some unexpected side effects from the COVID-19 pandemic, coach Scott Downing still wants to see his Devils performing like he knows they can.
“We lost two forwards with ACL and meniscus tears. (Because of the) COVID-19 (pandemic), they weren’t able to have surgery in time to return,” Downing said. “Right now, we’re exploring options to fill those spots.
“We always set our goals high and look to win the league and continue good runs in the tournament, as well as always progressing. It’s a strange year that nobody really knows what will happen, but I expect some exciting games between Troy, Vandalia and Sidney in double rounds. I just hope after the work all these players in the league have put in, they get to experience a season.”
Tippecanoe’s midfield is a strength with seniors Owen Hadden and Jake Smith, junior Evan Stonerock and sophomore Jackson Kleather returning. Jack Cleckner and Jonny Baileys return to lead the defense, with senior Clay Vaughn in goal.
Tom Wiseman takes over the Piqua Indians program this season, a team that went 4-9-4 and 1-6-2 in the loaded Miami Valley League Miami Division last year.
Dezmond Warner, Nathan Buecker and Landon Lawson return up front for the Indians, with Kyle Pierre — the team’s leading returning goal scorer with four last season — Colton Curtis and Kamden Davidson in the midfield. Josh Heath and Deacon Buechter will platoon in the net, while Logan Cavendar, Nick Heath and Jordan Slife will patrol the defensive backfield.
“We want to have a memorable and enjoyable season for the seniors and create a winning culture for the future,” Wiseman said. “(In the league), Tipp is obviously at the top, Troy is also strong and Sidney is solid.”
• Troy Christian
Troy Christian has won at least a share of the Metro Buckeye Conference title the past three seasons, and now it is looking to close out its time in the league with one last championship.
“(Our goals are) rather simple. Win conference. Win districts. Contend for a state title,” said Troy Christian coach Ryan Zeman, entering his 12th year with the team. “We plan to finish first (in the MBC) as we have the last three years. Since it’s our last year in the MBC, we want to go out strong. The teams to beat are Dayton Christian and Yellow Springs.”
The Eagles are led by three all-conference seniors on defense in juniors Sebastian Mathews, Chas Schemmel and Ty Davis along with freshman Parker Penrod, while sophomore Tanner Conklin returns for his second year as goalkeeper. Junior Nathan Kephart returns from a team that graduated a host of contributing seniors in the offseason to lead the front line, with juniors Hunter Williams and Chase Dohme and freshman Alex Free. Seniors Garrison Spatz and Nelson Lair will be in the midfield along with sophomores Josh Brubaker, Evan Murphy and Aidan Barnishin.
The Bethel Bees graduated a lot of weapons in the offseason, but with all of the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming season, the Bees are prepared for one final year of Cross County Conference competition before entering the new Three Rivers Conference.
“I keep saying I think I have seen it all, but this summer has been very different,” said Bethel coach Bob Hamlin, entering his 36th year with the team. “I am very proud of my team. They have had to deal with all the ups and downs associated with the uncertainty of a season. The boys come to practices with great attitudes and work hard. We are excited about the season ahead.”
The team graduated more than 80 goals and two all-state players from last year’s team, but it still returns some offense. Sophomore Jace Houck (10 goals, 17 assists) is the team’s leading returning scorer in the midfield along with senior Cole Brannan, juniors Casey Keesee and Devyn Mann and sophomores Kyle Brueckman and Elijah Rios. Juniors Jaiden Hogge and Sam Sortman return up front, and senior Ethan Blair, juniors Eli Mutlu and Dylan Franck and sophomores Colby Keiser and Austin Black will make up the defense, along with junior goalkeeper Nolan Flomerfelt.
“We must find a way to score goals,” Hamlin said. “We have some technically skilled players in the middle of the field, but we must get better at possessing the ball and making good decisions.
“I’m not sure what is happening with the CCC since Franklin Monroe is not fielding a team. I would think that Miami East would be the team to beat, but we have a very competitive schedule playing some of the best teams in Division III like Botkins, Troy Christian and Dayton Christian.”
Todd Winchester returns for his fifth season as Milton-Union coach, and with the Bulldogs finishing tied for second in the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division behind champion Waynesville last year, he wants to see the team claim the top spot in its final season in the league.
“Our goal every year is to win a league championship, but we have to beat Waynesville to do so,” Winchester said. “We have finished second in the SWBL Buckeye Division the past three years behind Waynesville, and they are the team to beat.”
The team’s two leading scorers from last year return up front in junior Landon Bechtel (14 goals) and sophomore Mason Grudich (seven goals) along with sophomore Carson Brown. Juniors Shane Ullery and Lukas Knight and sophomore Luke Daum will play the midfield, with seniors Dakota King and Devin Lambert and juniors Zach Quesinberry and Kyle Baldasare on defense and senior Gabe Goodman in goal.
“This is the first time in 15 years we have had a reserve team,” Winchester said. “The program has grown significantly the past five years.”
First-year coach Mark Moloney takes over a Lehman team that graduated seven seniors in the offseason but also returns plenty of firepower. In fact, the biggest challenge for the new coach has arguably been dealing with the strangeness of the 2020 season.
“As it has for other teams, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge, with tracking player attendance, reviewing symptoms, social distancing, mask wearing and ball washing at every practice,” he said. “But we can keep the kids safe and still play soccer, so I’m thrilled we’re going to have a season. We’re going to make the most of it.”
Senior captains Max Schmiesing, Jon Vanskiver and Will Voisard and junior captain Josh George will lead the team, with Ryan Armstrong, Sam Gilardi, Brandon Jones, Michael McFarland and Abe and Jude Schmiesing all returning lettermen.
Jeff Armentrout is back for his fourth season as Newton’s head coach, and he’d like to see the Indians win out in their final year of CCC play before entering a new conference.
Seniors Dylan Huber and Jonathan Maxwell return at forward to lead Newton’s offense, with senior Alex Hild in the midfield and sophomore goalkeeper Blake Reish in net.
“It’s the last year for the CCC, and I would like a clean sweep,” Armentrout said. “Bethel and Miami East will be tough. If this is a normal season, this team should look good, being well north of .500 and in a good spot for the tournament.
“But it’s 2020. I’m hoping we get to play a complete, full schedule.”