By Josh Brown
MIAMI COUNTY — The area’s boys soccer teams all have questions surrounding them going into the new season.
Saturday, the answers will begin to take shape at long last.
From conference realignments and teams trading places, to the graduation of last year’s talent and the maturation of the new, to good old-fashioned battles atop conferences between old rivals, there’s no shortage of storylines heading into the new boys soccer season. So here’s five of the top questions that Miami County’s local teams will begin answering this weekend:
1) How will Troy replace 12 seniors?
When the Troy Trojans held their Senior Night festivities last season, they said goodbye to more players than would fit on the soccer field at any one time — 12 players.
Five of those players were All-Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division selections last year, and a sixth likely would have been had he not been injured and lost for the season before it began. Among those departures was the long-time keystone of the Trojan defense, goalkeeper Alex Williams, who posted 15 shutouts over his last two seasons combined and went to Wright State University.
But the Trojans also began to get used to life without one of its best offensive players early, as midfielder Mitchell Evans missed the season with an aforementioned injury. And Troy’s leading scorer from last season, Grant Holland — who had 17 goals and 10 assists and was third in the GWOC North with 44 total points — will be back this year, along with a host of players that contributed during last season’s 12-5 season that saw the Trojans finish third in the GWOC North behind 5-0 Butler and 4-1 Sidney.
In fact, Troy welcomes 11 seniors to this year’s team, nine of which contributed on varsity last year. So the Trojans will be able to replace last year’s seniors — leaving the question of how those experienced players will mesh together with this year’s crop of up-and-coming talent.
2) How will Tippecanoe fit into the GWOC?
A better, longer-form question would be how Tippecanoe’s presence will impact and change the GWOC landscape — because it marks a massive shift in power.
Since 2009, the GWOC North’s top three teams have been Troy, Sidney and Butler in one order or another. The last time it was different? The year 2008, when there were only four teams and Piqua went 1-2 to climb over 0-3 Butler into third place.
But now Trotwood — which won only once from 2010-15 in division play — is gone, making way for area Division II power Tippecanoe to join Troy, Butler, Sidney, Greenville and Piqua in the new American North Division. Since 2007, the Red Devils only didn’t win at least a share of the Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division title once, leaving it with one last outright title by going 11-0 during a 17-2 season. Also a district and even regional tournament regular, the Devils pose a major threat atop the division immediately.
And with a head-to-head win over last year’s champion Butler — the Aviators’ only regular season loss all year — Tippecanoe is already one of the favorites to win the division, if not the favorite, before play has even started.
3) Can a new coach help Milton-Union?
The Bulldogs have not climbed out of the bottom half of the Southwestern Buckeye League in the last four years, though they made positive strides in 2015 with wins over Dixie and Preble Shawnee to finish right on the border, third out of five teams.
First-year coach Todd Winchester, though, is aiming high right away.
The new coach wants to see Milton-Union win the SWBL Buckeye Division this season and pile up double-digit wins. With some of the toughest teams in the area on the Bulldogs’ non-league schedule — including Bethel in the season opener on Aug. 23 — that could be a tall order. But should they perform well in SWBL play, with 11 total games against SWBL opponents, it could be an attainable goal.
4) Which of four teams will win the tough CCC?
The Cross County Conference has been an outright slugfest at the top of the league in recent years — and this one won’t be any different.
Defending champion Franklin Monroe will once again be a contender, but truly there are four teams to beat — the Jets, the Bethel Bees, the Newton Indians and the Miami East Vikings. All three of Miami County’s teams return solid squads, and every one of them will definitely contend.
In fact, Newton, which went 3-2-1 in CCC play last year and finished at the bottom of the top four, played its strongest at the end of the season, winning a sectional championship and advancing to its first-ever district final. The CCC race will come down to the head-to-head matchups between those four teams — but they will also have to maintain focus and not slip up on any given night when they aren’t playing each other, either.
And a related question — will any goalies score this season? Newton’s Nelson Clymer scored the Indians’ lone goal in their district final loss to top-seeded Greeneview on a length-of-the-field punt that bounced off the turf field at Sidney High School, over the opposing keeper’s head and in. He was only a junior — can Clymer do it again? Or will someone else duplicate his feat?
5) Can Troy Christian win the MBC?
The Eagles may face the toughest competition of all on its path to a potential league title.
Troy Christian is returning a slew of talented players this year — including the program’s all-time leading goal scorer in Jon Slone. But the two teams that finished ahead of the Eagles in the MBC standings last year, Dayton Christian and Yellow Springs, both return talented teams, as well.
In fact, Dayton Christian and Yellow Springs are both ranked in the Southwest Ohio High School Soccer Coaches Association’s preseason poll, with the Warriors eighth and the Bulldogs ninth. Can the Eagles get past two state-ranked teams to win the title? They’ll have until Sept. 29 against Yellow Springs and Oct. 6 against Dayton Christian to prepare an answer.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.