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The second year of Thomas Nelson’s boys’ soccer program proved to be a landmark season, as the Generals rode a group of 10 seniors to a 15-7 mark and upended their former Nelson County teammates to win the school’s first district championship.
“It was pretty awesome,” midfielder Aaron Love said. “Nobody expected us to win.”
Last year’s senior group is gone now, with graduation claiming 80 percent of the team’s scoring.
Replacing that scoring output is “gonna be tough,” said Matthew Boone, who joins classmate Love in a senior-dominated midfield. “We’ve got to go out and work.”
Love scored six goals and dished out three assists last year, the most of any returnee, and for the Generals to repeat as district champs, filling that scoring hole is critical.
“It’s tough, but it’s doable,” senior midfielder Bradley Nance said. “We’ve still got a lot of talent. We’ll surprise some people.”
Coach Ronnie Hatfield agrees.
“We lost the biggest part of our scoring and the defensive side,” he said. “But the house isn’t empty. There is some talent coming back.”
Hatfield said a big key is for the Generals to fill that leadership void left behind by last year’s seniors. Everybody’s learning new roles, especially seniors such as Love, Nance and Boone, as well as classmate Trevor Reiter, who will anchor the defensive unit.
“It’s a big step up for them,” said Hatfield, who noted that the current seniors deferred leadership to last year’s bunch.
Reiter said they’re embracing the challenge.
“It’s different, but it’s a good thing,” he said. “We’re showing the younger players how to step up and take on the big role.”
Reiter said it’s a “work in progress” settling into new roles as the team strives to find its cohesiveness.
It may have to start on the defensive end, where Reiter will join Nance and sophomore Ryan Martin as they help the tall, athletic Jarret Stiles ease into the starting goalkeeper spot. Stiles got action in four games last year — including being pressed into duty in the Generals’ region tournament loss to Central Hardin last year after an injury sidelined Nathan Bray — and recorded a shutout.
“He lacked a little bit of confidence last year,” Hatfield said. “He’s gained some this year.”
He’ll be tested early, as the Generals open their season Monday in the North Oldham Mustang Classic against traditional state power Oldham County.
With the midfield returning three seniors as well as junior Jordan Long, that unit figures to be the strength of the team.
Finding scoring will be the tricky part, though, as among those graduated are Nathan Hagan and his team-leading 37 goals, as well as Kyle Rogers, who produced 13 goals and led Kentucky with 34 assists. The experienced midfield seems like a likely candidate to lead the scoring push.
“It could be anybody, and anybody at any given time,” Hatfield said.
One thing that won’t happen, he said, is an abandonment of the Generals’ aggressive attacking style that produced 90 goals in 22 games.