In Lexington, every boys’ soccer team knows who the team to beat is.
“We want Dunbar” is a familiar refrain.
Paul Laurence Dunbar has advanced to the state tournament 12 times since 2000. That’s a clip of 66 percent.
But season over season, nothing is given. Lexington Catholic toppled Dunbar in two high-stakes penalty kick shootouts and advanced to semi-state last year. Henry Clay took the 11th Region crown in 2015.
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LexCath and Dunbar both return all-state attack-minded players, but another 43rd District rival appears ripe for the fray.
“There are no favorites,” said fifth-year Tates Creek coach Albert Gross. “I know Dunbar has controlled it for most of the time, but I think they’ve got to fight for those things, and we’ve got to learn to do that as well.”
The Commodores compiled the best record of Gross’ tenure (11-5-1) before running into a red-hot Lexington Catholic team in the district opener.
“The past two years, we’ve sort of dealt with a younger team, and finally those guys have matured both physically and mentally,” Gross said. “They’re starting to show it now in practice. We feel comfortable with where we are and are excited for the season.”
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LexCath isn’t ready to cede anything, yet, however.
“Expectations, obviously, are higher now. The boys feel the same way,’ said LexCath Coach Jonathan Kincheloe, who last year led the Knights to their first state tourney appearance since 2007. “Offensively, I think we’re going to be strong as we were last year and, hopefully, be able to build on what we created.”
And Dunbar isn’t going away.
“The expectations are there,” said Bulldogs Coach Todd Bretz. “(The players) know the expectations since their freshman year. It’s nothing new.”
The coaches know the biggest task is putting their teams in position to win and seeing what happens.
“Both (overtime tournament) games against Dunbar last year were a flip of the coin,” Kincheloe said. “When you go to PKs in games as tight as we had them, we feel fortunate to get where we were and they would have probably felt the same way.”
▪ Creek comes into this season loaded with talented players who’ve taken their lumps as underclassmen starting on varsity.
“We can compete,” said junior Moses Nzilamba a second-team all city player in 2017. “We have the players and the skill. Now, we have more juniors and seniors, so we have strength and speed.”
Creek also brings back first team all-city striker Ben Kaindu, and will look for big things from Spencer Waldrop, both juniors.
▪ Catholic returns 25-goal scorer Brian Banahan and midfield play-maker Jackson Kirn, both seniors. Juniors Brutus Clay and Santiago Peralta should make huge contributions, as well.
“We knew coming in last season we were going to be a strong team, but no one else knew,” said Banahan, who expects opponents will key on him more this season. “It’s a team sport, and we’ve got a couple of guys that people are still sleeping on. I’m sure they’ll step up and deliver.”
▪ Dunbar brings back nine seniors, including first-team all-state midfielder Eddy Andrade and second-team all-state forward Pedro Jimenez. Andrade will be asked to play more of a holding role to maintain position and get the attack started this season, according to Bretz.
“I just have to go at it a lot harder than I did last year,” Andrade said.
▪ Reality did not meet expectations last season for Bryan Station, but with dynamic first team all-city selections back for their senior years in midfielder Diallo Irakoze and striker Eddie Irumva, the Defenders aim to right last year’s wrongs.
“For Diallo, I think what makes him so good is just his vision,” said sixth-year coach Manes Preptit. “He’s able to see the entire field … He’s just explosive. He’s got power and speed.”
▪ Henry Clay returns only two starters from last year’s 42nd District champ, but the Blue Devils never consider themselves in a rebuild. Junior Ethan Anderson returns as keeper while junior leading assist man Sota Ippongi will look to improve on his six goals from last season.
“No team is ever going to be the same, so I’ve got to figure out how this group — which is a very good group technically — what formation is going to make them the most successful,” said Henry Clay Coach Jason Behler, who has just six seniors, but 14 juniors. “It’s kind of refreshing having a young team.”
▪ Lafayette proved they could hold opposing offenses down last season, but struggled to score. Coach Chris Grimm believes his team is set up similarly this year with rock-solid play from seniors Trevor Matthews, Ty Matthews and Jace Burt, a 2017 all-state selection.
▪ Coach Steve Fugmann switches over to boys’ soccer at Lexington Christian this year and has nine-goal scorer Phillip Scott and six-goal scorer Dawson Hendrickson returning as seniors.
▪ Frederick Douglass brings back honorable mention all-city juniors Innocent Lumona and Yaw Ntodi, while Sayre will look for more opportunities at forward for honorable mention all-city keeper Matthew Bernard. Fellow senior Wick Hallos will run the midfield.
Dunbar vs. everyone: The gold standard in the 11th Region, the Bulldogs game is circled on every team calendar. It will show you what you are, how you can get better and who you might become. If you win it, it could fill your sails for the rest of the season. And for Dunbar, surviving the Lexington gantlet can be tougher than a run to the state finals.
- Aug. 23: Frederick Douglass
- Aug. 28: Henry Clay
- Sept. 6: Lexington Catholic
- Sept. 11: Tates Creek
- Sept. 13: Bryan Station
- Sept. 17: Lexington Christian
- Sept. 20: Lafayette
Tates Creek at Bryan Station, Aug. 28: This game should show which young team is ready to knock the door down.
Bryan Station at Henry Clay, Sept. 4: The Defenders suffered a 10-0 loss to the Blue Devils last season that threw the train off the track. If Station is to contend in the 42nd this year, this game has to be competitive.
Frederick Douglass at Sayre, Sept. 4: Two young teams look for validation in the 42nd. When they last met in the district tournament, penalty kicks decided it.
Lexington Christian at Lafayette, Sept. 12: The last time LCA’s Steve Fugmann headed up a boys’ program, he was Lafayette’s coach and the Generals’ Chris Grimm was his assistant. Now they’re on opposite sides with 43rd pride on the line.
Tates Creek at Lexington Catholic, Sept. 18: Last year, this matchup was close in the regular season and not close in the district tournament (both LexCath wins). It will test both defenses, because offensively, both teams can bring it.
Lexington Catholic at Henry Clay, Sept. 25: The Blue Devils’ optimism about their young team gets put to the test against the Knights.
Coach: Manes Preptit (sixth season).
Last season, 42nd District: 7-13-0 (45 GF/57 GA*), lost 4-0 to Scott County in district semis.
Outlook: The Defenders will again have a young defense, but up top they can be explosive. “The biggest difference this year is just experience. … The work ethic is there and they definitely want it this year,” Preptit said. The Defenders’ goal should be nothing less than an 11th Region tourney appearance.
Player’s take: Senior forward Eddie Irumva — “I think this year is going to be different. We’re a more focused team, definitely … We’re putting down new roots, kind of starting fresh and making sure our team has that good foundation to go as far as we can.”
Coach: Omar Shalash (second season).
Last season, 42nd District: 4-16-0.
Outlook: “We’re still learning a lot about ourselves,” Shalash said as he prepared another young team in a 2-year-old program. Douglass remains in a building phase and depth will be an issue as it looks to assert itself.
Player’s take: Junior Ryan Leigeb — “We’re coming out a lot harder this year … I feel like we’ve improved with our chemistry and skill level.”
Coach: Jason Behler (third season).
Last season, 42nd District champion: 17-3-2 (81 GF/15 GA), lost 2-1 to Dunbar in first round of regional.
Outlook: With only two returning starters, Behler said he’s been impressed with how his players have stepped up to the challenge this year. “If your program is in the right place, you should never be rebuilding, you should just be thinking about what you can do with the next group. … These guys are hungry, so that’s fun.”
Player’s take: Junior Charlie Boone — “I think that talent-wise we can compete with anybody in the city. … It’s definitely different having 12 seniors last year leave and stepping into a leadership position on the team, but I think we’re ready for it.”
Coach: Chris Grimm (11th season).
Last season, 43rd District: 9-10-0 (21 GF/19 GA), lost 1-0 to Dunbar in district semis.
Outlook: “We’re going to be pretty similar to what we had last year,” Grimm said. “We were very strong defensively, last year, very good in the midfield, but what was tough for us was scoring. … We were in every game. I think 13 of our games were decided by one goal.”
Player’s take: Senior Jace Burt — “We’ve learned a lot on attacking so far — really learning how to take people one-on-one, and being aggressive. We’re trying out different positions and just seeing what we can work with.”
Coach: Jonathan Kincheloe (seventh season)
Last season, 43rd District and 11th Region champions: 17-7-2 (63 GF/ 32GA), lost 2-0 to Ryle in semi-state opener.
Outlook: The Knights have one of the best midfield-striker combos in the region, but must retool the defensive back line. “If we can put that together, I’m optimistic about what we can do.” They should be.
Player’s take: Senior Jackson Kirn — “Last year, we weren’t favorited to win the district. We never are. But we went (to the district), shocked them, then went into region and shocked them again. We’ve got the kids again to put in the work.”
Coach: Steve Fugmann (first season).
Last season, 43rd District: 7-7-2 (43 GF/26 GA) Lost 2-0 to Lafayette in district first round.
Outlook: Coming back to boys’ soccer after nine years as LCA girls’ coach, Fugmann wants to get the Eagles to the regional for the first time in their history. “Going against those teams all season, I have to coach harder, they have to train harder. Really, it pushes us.”
Player’s take: Senior Dawson Hendrickson — “We’re definitely improving. It’s just new positioning on the field. Communication is very important.”
Coach: Todd Bretz (29th season).
Last season, 43rd District: 20-4-1 (63 GF/19 GA), lost in PKs to Lexington Catholic in region finals.
Outlook: Dunbar returns key players all with the memory of two close finals losses last season. “One thing you can’t take away is experience. I think we have a little bit more of that this year.” Dunbar has reason to expect every game is winnable.
Player’s take: Senior Kevin Jing — “We all enjoy being out here at practice and games together and I think that makes a big difference. We’ll hopefully see that when we start to play in the regular season.”
Coach: Joseph Porter (11th season).
Last season, 42nd District: 2-14-1 (24 GF/78 GA), lost 6-1 to Henry Clay in district semis.
Outlook: “We were very young last year. We’re still very young with a big freshman class, but (this year’s sophomores) gained a lot experience last year and I think that will pay off. … This team will be competitive and in a lot of games with chances to win.”
Player’s take: Senior Matthew Bernard — “We’ve got a lot of really good freshmen this year, so we’re going to start growing a program that’s going to last us a few years here. … To leave a legacy of a really good team would be really important to me.”
Coach: Albert Gross (fifth season).
Last season, 43rd District: 11-5-1 (44 GF/28 GA) lost 3-0 to Lexington Catholic in the 43rd semis.
Outlook: “I think we have just the right mix of players defensively, in the midfield and attacking-wise that sort of all the pieces are starting to come together,” Gross said. The Commodores should contend for a regional slot, and anything can happen after that.
Player’s take: Junior Spencer Waldrop — “I think we have some big things to come. I definitely see us making it pretty far this year.”
*GF: Goals For/GA: Goals Against