By Josh Brown
MIAMI COUNTY — Troy boys soccer coach Richard Phillips knows that, in the Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division, nothing is certain.
Nothing except that you never can predict what will happen, that is.
“On any given night, anyone can beat anyone else,” Phillips said. “You never know.”
But as Troy goes in search of its fifth straight share of the division championship, it has one big concern that needs to be addressed — graduation of almost its entire defensive backfield from a year ago.
“We’re still experimenting with our back four,” Phillips said. “That’s our main concern right now, to be solid in the back. We have to be able to defend the ball.”
With only senior Brandon Hess returning with any significant playing time back there, though, the Trojans have junior goalkeeper Alex Williams to soften the blow. Williams got a full year of experience, only allowing 16 goals in 17 games and making 109 saves.
“Alex did remarkably well last year in his first year,” Phillips said. “And he gained a lot of experience over the spring. Getting him back is a big plus for us. He can help direct traffic in the back — especially the younger guys.”
The majority of Troy’s returning experience is in the midfield. Senior Andrew Bricker and junior Mitchell Evans return to anchor the middle of the field, with Jake Diffenderfer, Cameron Schultz, Caleb Liebold and J.T. Yenney also bringing some experience with them.
“Andrew and Mitchell are probably our two most experienced players coming back,” Phillips said. “They should make a big difference for us as far as leadership goes. They can help carry the team when we need it against stronger teams. Mitchell’s knowledge of the game and presence will help tremendously in the midfield.”
And they can help provide some offense, too. Diffenderfer was Troy’s third-leading scorer last year with seven goals and six assists, and Liebold added five goals and two assists.
But Troy’s primary two attackers this season will be junior Johan Trotter, who had six goals and three assists last year, and last year’s leading JV scorer, sophomore Grant Holland.
“We have Grant and Johan playing up top, and with those two, combined with our midfield, that should help us a lot so far as scoring goals.”
And with things the way they have been in the GWOC North in recent years, Troy will need every bit of that working together.
The Trojans have shared the division title with Butler the past two seasons, and the two seasons before that it was a three-way tie between the Trojans, Aviators and Sidney Yellowjackets. Sidney was the last outright champ — all the way back in 2009.
“Butler is probably the favorite right now. They’ve got a lot of players coming back from last year,” Phillips said. “And of course, there’s always Sidney, Piqua and Greenville, too. Again, you just never know. On any given night …
“Our goal, as always, is to win the North. That’s always the first thing. Anything that comes after that, like a tournament run and individual honors, comes after that. We always look to the conference first.”
Troy opens the season Aug. 19 against Fairmont.
Goalkeeper Kurt Hamlin, a four-year starter with two of those in goal, returns to anchor a tough Bethel defense this season, with the Bees looking to once again do some damage in the Cross County Conference.
Hamlin had nine shutouts and a 0.77 goals-against average last year, and joining him in the backfield will be juniors Evan Hawthorn, Elijah Thomas, Tyler Berkshire, Ryan Wallen and Daniel Garcia, as well as freshmen Joe Miller, Luke Moorefield and Ben Lawson.
Senior Nick Wanamaker, who had 19 goals and five assists last year, and Carlos Panzardi, another four-year starter who added seven goals and three assists, return to lead the offense along with juniors Riley Shaffer and Zach Cohee, and in the midfield will be juniors Sam McKenny, Collin Rust, Coleman Clark and Randy Ellish and freshmen Korry Hamlin, Tyler Brueckman, Daniel Ross and David Landes.
“Our defense will be our strength, as I do not expect us to give up many goals this season — but we must find a way to consistently score,” Bethel coach Bob Hamlin said. “Our passing in the preseason has progressively gotten better and will help us in the offensive end. We will need continued leadership from seniors Kyle Hamlin, Nick Wanamaker and Carlos Panzardi to help us achieve our goal of being CCC champions.
“I feel the CCC will be as strong as it has been in a while with Franklin Monroe as the team to beat. Newton, Miami East and Twin Valley South should all be better than last year, too, making the CCC a challenge to win.”
* Miami East
The Vikings improved by leaps and bounds last season, going 11-7 and making a solid showing in the postseason. And Miami East is looking to keep that momentum going this year.
Back to help with that are seniors Devin Baldasare and Austin Kowalak. Baldasare had 21 goals and five assists, while Kowalak had 10 goals and 11 assists last year. Also back is senior Seth Volsard and juniors Devyn Carson and Nolan Woolley in the midfield, with that trio combining for four goals and 15 assists. And on defense, the Vikings return seniors Michael Deeter and Eric Kalo and welcome freshman Colten Weldy, who will look to make an impact right away.
“This year we are looking to repeat the success of last season and continue to progress as we have the past two seasons,” Miami East coach Adam Bell said. “This year’s team has a large, strong and experienced group of upperclassmen to lead the team. We are looking to improve on last year’s 11-7 record.”
Newton will lean on a trio of seniors this season to help the Indians out with a tough schedule, one that features two Division I teams and six of the top 10 MVSSCA teams from a year ago.
Seniors Levi Armentrout, Jonny White and Dustin Coate bring back plenty of experience for the Indians, with juniors Andrew Dilts, Trenton Lavy and Kyle Demido gaining playing time last year, too. Sophomores Nelson Clymer, Jack Yoder, Austin Evans, Lukus Tebics, Kyle Maslowski, Nick Honeycutt, Seth Courtney, Nick Garlin and Rhett Gipe and freshmen John Laughman, Josh Houk and Cody Durst will help add depth to the team.
“We have another exciting and challenging schedule for the year ahead,” Newton coach Brent Hodges said. “Cross County Conference play is always tough, and we have some tough non-conference games from last year’s schedule — plus a few new ones — to help us improve. We were 8-8-3 last year, finished third in the CCC and made our fourth straight sectional final appearance, losing in the sectional final. Everything is looking positive for the Indians this season.”
* Troy Christian
After a 10-3-3 season last year, Troy Christian is hoping to rebuild a bit this season after graduating six key players from last year’s Metro Buckeye Conference runner-up team.
Sophomore Jon Slone and freshman Colt Tanner will lead the offense at forward, with Slone scoring seven goals and nine assists last year. The midfield has quite a bit of experience in senior Doug Benedict and junior Aaron Rhoton, with a mix of juniors and sophomores including captain Tommy Null, Brendan Pohle and Jared Trimbach. And the defense will be led by the Eagles lone returning all-conference player in Seth Wynne, as well as Dillon Belcher, Drew Strait and junior goalie Wesley Alexander.
“As we are coming off of one of the most successful seasons at Troy Christian, we look to rebuild after losing six seniors — five of which were all-conference players,” Troy Christian coach Ryan Zeman said. “I feel like we finally put TC soccer on the map as a respectable and growing program. I am excited about this season, as we play some of the top schools in Division III — and even one of the best programs in the state in Cincinnati Seven Hills. We’re working hard to improve each day.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132 or email@example.com, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.