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With a slew of seniors and a number of experienced underclassmen back for this season, the 2014 campaign could be a special one for Nelson County.
“We’ve got a good chance to win district,” Tyler Tipton said, “if players step up.”
Tipton is part of a strong 10-man senior bunch who last year helped the Cardinals overcome a midseason rough patch when the team was wracked by injuries. They rallied from a four-match skid to go 6-1-1 down the stretch before falling to John Hardin in the region semifinals, and that strong finish is why there’s a lot of optimism in the Nelson camp this year.
“It’s always good to have your experience returning,” longtime coach Lee Brothers said. “Young guys got lots of minutes because of injuries.”
Up front, Brothers can go to guys like senior Quinton Lyvers and junior Joey Muncy for goals.
“That’s definitely our strong point,” said Lyvers, a senior. “We have basically all our offense back.”
Passing, finishing and possessing the ball will be key, and Brothers feels those similarities to last year’s squad will carry over, resulting in more scoring opportunities.
A lot of those opportunities are created by strong midfield play, where Tipton and fellow senior Nico Godenzi make things happen. Sophomore Colton Weir, who dealt with nagging injuries much of the year, figures to also play a key role, as does classmate Aaron Cook, who started most of last year as a freshman.
Defense is where things may get tricky for Brothers’ bunch. Four of the five seniors who graduated were defenders, including strong leaders such as Dalton Berry and Jacob Rogers.
“We’re making sure we don’t have any holes back there,” Brothers said.
Filling those holes are many of the guys who were pressed into duty early because of injuries.
Sophomore Trey Stone and junior Dylan Maze got valuable experience on the back line last year, and the Cardinals get a boost from the return of Michael Johnson, who missed all of his junior season because of injuries, providing Brothers with what he calls a “solid core.”
“We’re just getting them to rotate and get everybody where they need to go,” said senior Derrick Zielke. “I’m hoping the experience (from last year) will help.”
The athletic Zielke — who recorded six shutouts last year — returns in goal for a second season, and helps shore up the leadership void on defense.
“He’s very important to this team,” Lyvers said. “He possibly could be one of the best in the region.”
Brothers knows that puts a lot of pressure on his goalkeeper, but he thinks Zielke is up to the challenge.
“He’s done well this year so far,” Brothers said. “There’s a lot expected of him and he’s handled that.”
If it all comes into place, Brothers could get his first district title since the 2004 region title squad. He’s not counting his chickens before they hatch, though, not with defending champs Thomas Nelson and an improved Bardstown squad to contend with, as well as a Bethlehem squad motivated by having their eight-year streak of district championships snapped.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how the district plays out,” Brothers said. “I think we can compete with anybody.”
The Cardinals open the season on the road Tuesday at Taylor County.