Henry Clay graduated its leading goal scorer for the past two seasons. It lost its leading assists man, but it's still considered the team to beat in the city in soccer this season.
“The powers that be snuck us in up there, didn't they?” Coach Tim Bernardi said of his team's pre-season No. 4 ranking by the state's coaches. “We're a good team; by the end of the season, we could definitely be a top-five team.”
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But the end of the season is a long way away, and the start of the season is Monday.
Even without Pierre Manga (the leading scorer) and Logan Matthews (the leading assists man), the Devils are strong.
They return all four defenders, who have been playing together as a unit for three straight seasons. Those defensive players, Jake Hender, Alec Foster, Andy Hoch and Daniel Barr, all set the tone for the Devils.
Jordan Manley and Phillip Mabika are great set-up players, and the younger Phillip Manga will be counted on to score some goals.
Bernardi said his team is aware of the high ranking.
“You've got to take it step by step,” he said. “Some people think it's a joke, and some people think it's life or death. We're just taking it as a compliment.”
The Devils coach said the parity in the city and region keeps any team from looking too far ahead into the post-season.
“Any given night, one team can knock off another team,” Bernardi said. “Teams like Catholic, Dunbar, Tates Creek will all be strong. It's pretty much wide open right now.”
Paul Dunbar is ranked No. 8 in the pre-season, but the Bulldogs' coach, Todd Bretz, said his team is “top-20 at best.
“We're just a fair team,” he said. “We really lack a lot of experience. ... We may end up being competitive, but it's going to take a little time if it does come around.”
Bretz's team, which was ranked in the top five most of last season, is still in a tough district with quality teams such as No. 18 Lexington Catholic and No. 20 Lexington Christian, as well as Lafayette, West Jessamine and East Jessamine.
That district might be further complicated by the number of new coaches. In the city alone, there are new coaches at Catholic (Greg Hilvers), LCA (Jim Tussey), Lafayette (Chris Grimm) and Sayre (Joe Porter).
“It doesn't change things a whole lot,” Bretz said of the new faces. “These are still good programs with good teams and good players.”
Right now, though, the Devils are satisfied with being labeled as the city's best. Bernardi is happy with his team's work ethic and continuity.
“You can just sense something good right now with this group,” Bernardi said. “They were proud of their pre-season ranking. We have to go out with a chip on our shoulder and have something to prove. We know a lot of teams are going to be gunning for us.”
Two Louisville schools grabbed the top spots in the coaches' pre-season poll with St. Xavier at No. 1 and Male at No. 2.
Other area schools in the pre-season top 25 include No. 12 Woodford County, No. 13 Clark County, No. 14 West Jessamine, No. 17 Madison Central and No. 25 East Jessamine.