A little more than a week into the 2016 boys’ soccer season, one thing’s clear: the 43rd District will again be a dogfight.
Lafayette, rated sixth in the latest Maher Rankings, hopes it can find itself on top of the district and then some come postseason time. The Generals haven’t advanced to the regional round since 2011, when they were in the old 14th Region (which at that time was comprised of current 43rd compatriots Paul Laurence Dunbar, Lexington Catholic and Lexington Christian but did not include any other Lexington schools.)
Coach Chris Grimm, in his eighth season as head coach after four years as an assistant, said the talent level at Lafayette comes in waves whereas other high-level programs seem to yield freshman class after freshman class full of future impact guys. This season the Generals boast an experienced starting 11 that Grimm feels good putting up against any team in the state.
“This year we brought back a lot of guys in our senior class who played a lot of minutes last year,” Grimm said. “Coming into this season they had high expectations and they have some very high goals moving forward.”
Entering its Tuesday game at No. 7 Mercer County, the Generals were 3-0-1, all against top-20 teams. Getting out of the gate strong in week one was a “huge confidence-builder” for a group that hasn’t really played with a front-runner role before.
“I think it proved to the guys that, hey, if we want to do something this year that hasn’t been done in a while at Lafayette, we can really do it as long as we work for it,” Grimm said.
One concern Grimm has is depth; outside of his starters, few players on the roster have played extended varsity minutes. Developing the bench is a point of emphasis in the early part of the season.
Seniors Nick SirLouis (2015 team MVP and captain) and Holden Treadway (the team’s leader in points last season) have been great role models to help lead that charge, Grimm said.
“They started playing big varsity minutes when they were freshmen and they’ve never shown any ‘I’ve been starting since I was a freshman’ attitude,” he said. “ ... This year they really want to accomplish something that they haven’t been able to do.”
Three big battles: vs. Daviess County (at Bowling Green), 6 p.m. Sept. 3; vs. Lexington Catholic, 8 p.m. Sept. 13; at Madison Central, 7:45 p.m. Oct. 4.
Elsewhere in the city
▪ After 13 years as an assistant, Jason Behler took over as Henry Clay’s head coach this offseason. Returnees Donovan Gregory, Henry MacFarlan, Ethan MacGillivray, Colby Rose and Nick Whitehouse (an All-State honorable mention last year) bring key playing experience to a relatively youthful bunch that will play with a target on its back after finishing as state runners-up in 2015. The Blue Devils are expected to again lead the way in the 42nd District.
Three big battles: at Paul Laurence Dunbar, 8 p.m. Aug. 25; vs. Woodford County, 8 p.m. Aug. 30; at Lafayette, 8 p.m. Sept. 8
▪ Paul Laurence Dunbar Coach Todd Bretz, who last season became the state’s all-time winningest soccer coach, thinks the biggest test for his Bulldogs will be finding reliable scoring options since they lost 98 percent of their 2015 goals to graduation. With their top-five ranking and championship pedigree (Dunbar’s four titles are the most by a Lexington school), no one will pity the Bulldogs. The positive news? Dunbar has experience in its middle line with returning All-City player Harrison Grabmeyer, Javier Delgado and Caleb Norris. Jack Sheroan is a vet in the back.
Three big battles: vs. Henry Clay, 8 p.m. Aug. 25; vs. Lafayette, 8 p.m. Sept. 20; at Lexington Catholic, 8 p.m. Sept. 27.
▪ Sayre had a banner year, reaching its second regional tournament in program history before an overtime loss to Woodford County ended its run. Among the Spartans back from that edition are All-State second-teamer Will Newton, keeper Robbie Goodman, midfielder Alex Mitchell and forward Logan Pelfrey. “We have several players ready to make a big, or in some cases bigger, impact this year,” Coach Joe Porter said. “ ... Everyone is eager for the challenge this year.” Part of Sayre’s 2015 success was a strong defense which lost four players to graduation. “We have some guys ready to step up,” Porter said, “but I’m sure we will have some bumps early on as the chemistry builds.”
Three big battles: vs. Lexington Christian in 11th Region All ‘A’ Classic, 8 p.m. Aug. 30; vs. Henry Clay, 5:30 p.m. Sept. 27; at Woodford County, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29
▪ After blasting Frankfort in its season opener, Bryan Station couldn’t come away with goals against Bowling Green, Ryle and Woodford County — perennial top-20 clubs — in the Lexington Soccer Showcase last weekend. The schedule won’t soften for Manes Preptit’s team, but fortunately it boasts the depth needed to get through the gauntlet Lexington offers. “We are looking to change the perception of Bryan Station,” Preptit said. “I think we will surprise a few teams this year. My boys have been working hard over the past few weeks and are anxious to show their improvement not just in words but actions.” Preptit expects Diallo Irakoze, Eddy Irakoze, Russell Scaife, and Daonhan Tran to star for the Defenders.
Three big battles: vs. Scott County, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 8; vs. Sayre, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13; at Henry Clay, 6:15 p.m. Sept. 29
▪ Tyler Kenney, Zach Tussey and Henry Simon are top returnees for a Lexington Catholic team that lost 13 players to graduation but finds itself rated 18th in the most recent Maher Rankings. After an up-and-down 2015, during which the Knights lost several games by a single goal, Coach Jonathan Kincheloe thinks finishing will be a big strength for this edition. Of course, experience will be a question mark — especially since the Knights play only six games at home this season — but newcomers Logan Absher, Brian Banahan, Wilson Hourigan and Jackson Kirn ought to be up to the task.
Three big battles: at Trinity, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 25; at Lafayette, 8 p.m. Sept. 13; vs. Paul Laurence Dunbar, 8 p.m. Sept. 27
▪ Tates Creek lost 16 seniors but is still in the top-25 conversation this season thanks to returnees Kyle Workman and Jean Carlos Viecza. Workman, a senior, will play more center-mid after starting on the back line in 2015. Coach Albert Gross thinks Workman’s work ethic will “be the engine of our team.” Viecza, a junior, is a natural with the ball. “We will rely heavily on Jean Carlos to break down defenses and put our team in scoring positions,” Gross said. Freshman Luke Harrington and sophomore Kaleb Cisensus are newcomers Gross thinks will provide valuable turf time for the Commodores this season and beyond; he hopes his upperclassmen will perform well enough early to help the youngsters develop at a steady pace.
Three big battles: at Madison Central, 10 a.m. Sept. 17; vs. Paul Laurence Dunbar, 8 p.m. Sept. 22; vs. Lafayette, 8 p.m. Sept. 29
▪ Evan Duszynski takes over at Lexington Christian, which looks to bounce back from consecutive losing seasons. Duszynski, a Cynthiana native, played college soccer at Asbury. The Eagles started their season off with a 3-1 win over East Jessamine and a 4-0 loss to Mercer County.
Three big battles: vs. Sayre (11th Region All “A” Classic), 8 p.m. Aug. 30; vs. Paul Laurence Dunbar, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13; at Tates Creek, 8 p.m. Sept. 27
Preseason city coaches’ poll
Team (first-place votes)
1. Paul Laurence Dunbar (5)
2. Henry Clay (1)
4. Lexington Catholic
6. Tates Creek
7. Lexington Christian
8. Bryan Station