On Tuesday, I took in three soccer training sessions in Lincoln City and Ferdinand.
It marked Day Two of the preseason as area student-athletes look to reach match fitness.
The Forest Park boys are set to begin their season Aug. 18 against Tell City at Cedar Crest Intermediate, while the Ranger girls are set two days later to welcome Mt. Vernon. Both are Pocket Athletic Conference matchups.
The Heritage Hills boys unleash the campaign at home on Aug. 16 against Boonville.
These squads lost a lot of core pieces from last year’s championship sides.
Here’s what I gleaned on the second day of the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s official practices.
1. Towering Ranger backlineThe dearth of returning starters due to graduation doesn’t exclude this boys team.
The Rangers lost key pieces all over the soccer pitch — a total of seven veterans.
The contingent will be bolstered by the return of seniors Leo Alvis and Ethan Pierce.
Alvis, who last played the beautiful game as a sophomore, will be an outside back rarely shorter than the man he’s marking and rarely muscled off the ball.
Pierce is making a comeback after a foot injury kept him from donning the Forest Green.
The lefty will clean up messes in the middle at center back. He will be paired with senior Eli Cox, who will no longer wear gloves nor command the six-yard box.
Cox didn’t mince words about his belief in this group. The Rangers are coming off two sectional titles and a regional finalist last year.
“A lot of people are probably going to underestimate us again because they like to think maybe the champs are going to fall off,” he said. “Losing JD Kerber was definitely a punch to the gut because that scoring presence definitely isn’t going to be there this year.
“I think losing seven seniors is hard, but we got two kids to come back, Leo and Ethan, that definitely helps,” he continued. “I actually think we have a chance to go even farther this year because of other schools losing their guys. We’ve just been putting in the work a lot this summer. It’s definitely (shown). I feel like we go really far this year if not all the way.”
I think the Rangers will compete for another sectional crown but look for the new kid on the block as part of the IHSAA umbrella, Evansville Christian, to challenge them in the Class 1A tourney.
The back four for Forest Park is the linchpin for results this fall.
2. Heritage Hills needs to grow up in a hurryThe Patriots were on the brink of the state championship game last year in Class 2A — uncharted waters for the school.
That group was senior-laden with eight vets.
Fast forward to this year and the script has flipped.
Instead of being loaded with some of the best talent in the state up top and in midfield, the Pats have nine upperclassmen.
“I’m very excited, energized about this group,” coach Joe Asbury said. “It’s kind of a rebuilding process. We lost some players from last year that played significant roles. We are going to hopefully put together a team that is hard to play against.”
I anticipate guys like senior Geo Arias and sophomore Oscar Lara to pick up the pieces and have an impactful season.
Arias had more of a complementary role on the frontline last year with two stars getting behind the defense with runs into space and using skills on the ball.
“Gabe (Staggs) and Jose (Lara) were all-conference, all-state type kids,” Asbury said. “They are going to be tough to replace. They were able to do some things that are just hard to replicate. I think this team can be a team that’s a little more scrappy, maybe like I said earlier with a chip on their shoulder a little bit.
“That we are not going to take a step back, we are going to match what we had last year,” he continued. “Probably everybody else feels we are not going to be as good as we were. Hopefully, our kids can respond to that, when teams leave, whether it’s a win or loss, they feel like they are in a real dog fight.”
The graduated duo combined for 37 goals. Staggs was an Indiana Soccer Coaches Association first-team selection and Jose was an honorable mention.
Now it’s likely going to be the Arias and Oscar, Jose’s cousin, showcase. If these two can combine to have half the year their predecessors had, the Pats will compete.
“I’m hoping this group has a little chip on their shoulder,” Asbury said. “There’s a little edge to them, but going in with the idea of, ‘Yeah, we had a good team last year, but it wasn’t all about those kids that graduated. (There are) a lot of guys coming back that played significant roles on a good team.
“Hopefully those kids are going to have a little chip on their shoulder and say, ‘We are going to keep on rolling and we are going to be tough to play against,’ ” he continued. “We lost some guys but we got some good sophomores coming up.”
There are 26 underclassmen and 15 sophomores. Last year, these younger players helped provide depth and complementary roles. Now they will have ample chances to produce.
3. Changing of guard for Rangers girls
The biggest shakeup from the three squads mentioned may be the Forest Park girls.
Coach Brad Weyer pointed out that six of the seven seniors in last year’s first 11 were entrenched in that spot for three years and some started all four years.
This year’s group being unproven is an understatement.
I like Weyer’s approach to embracing a new challenge outside of the status quo.
“It’s kind of interesting the last couple of years, I knew coming into the season I had the core group of seniors that had just been so tremendous and incredible for 3-4 years straight,” he said. “So, I kind of knew what I was getting into and a little comfortable, just kept building, but this is really going to challenge me and I’m honestly looking forward to it.
“It’s kind of a nerve-racking feeling but it’s a good nervous energy,” he continued.
Last year’s starting midfield has graduated, which leaves a lot of positions ripe for the picking.
Out of the gate, it’s going to take time to get the pieces to mesh.
Last year’s midfield sprung a lot of attacks but also snuffed out a lot of chances before they could crystalize.
This season, the onus will be on the attacking players like junior Addison Weyer, sophomore Addison Schipp and junior Ali Wahl to create chances.
The starting backline is back but with less possession likely they will be busier.
Weyer told me that this year’s team will have the chance to spark opportunities on goal at a higher rate than recent Rangers teams.
“I told them, I told their parents, it’s important that we manage our expectations,” Weyer said. “We’ve had tremendous success the past four or five years, always in contention for sectional title and beyond, always knocked on the door for the (Pocket Athletic Conference) title. Last year we were able to clinch a piece of first place.”