The surprise team last year in 28th District boys soccer was Model Laboratory.
After losing its second game of the season, Model went undefeated over the next 17 games (15-0-2), beating Berea 3-0 in the district semifinals and Madison Central 2-1 for the title.
The Patriots finished the season 15-2-3.
Model proved the regular season was no fluke, beating Lafayette, 2-1, in the Region 14 semifinals, before falling to state powerhouse Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1-0, in the championship.
Model returns a core group of players, including talented center midfielder Andrew Wylie.
The junior had 11 goals and 13 assists last year.
Also back are senior midfielder John Reisig (nine goals, five assists), junior midfielder Taylor Gentry (seven goals, two assists), sophomore forward/midfielder Noah Valencia (four goals two assists) and junior midfielder Chris Wylie (two goals, two assists).
Model also has its goalkeeper back.
Senior Turner Curtis put together a solid season last year, allowing 24 goals in 20 games, for a 1.2 goals against average.
There are a few key holes to fill, especially at the sweeper position, where four-year starter Eric Yoder graduated.
Also gone is defensive center half Mike Hughes and leading scorer Hunter Conner.
Eric Yoder’s brother Andrew, a sophomore, is poised to take over at sweeper, while sophomore Brandon Gentry will most likely fill the spot vacated by Hughes.
Model hopes a freshman, Ephraim Otieno, can provide an offensive spark to replace the 22 goals and 18 assists Conner had last season.
“I’m pretty happy with the way we’re looking,” said Model coach Steve Savage. “We had a really good season in 2010 and last season. We definitely want to build on that.”
The Patriots open the season Tuesday at Danville, which advanced to last year’s state tournament. The first home game is Saturday at noon against Kentucky Country Day, the only team to beat Model during last year’s regular season.
Central has 10 seniors on this year’s team and returns its two center midfielders — Austin McAlister and Daniel Parke.
“Everything runs through them,” said Central coach Jeremy Anderson.
Last year’s team went 11-10, beating Southern, 1-0, in the district semifinals, before falling to Model, 2-1, in the title game.
Central lost 7-0 in the 14th Region Tournament to Dunbar.
Also back for Central are senior sweeper Sean Livingston, defender and all-around player Zach Owsley, junior Addison McCoy and senior Evan Roberts.
“We’re an older much more experienced team,” Anderson said. “Pretty much everyone who starts this year played significant moments last year.”
Through five preseason games the Indians allowed just one goal.
That’s an amazing feat considering Central is still trying to find a permanent goalkeeper.
Several players are competing for that coveted spot.
The early part of the season will also be telling for the Indians.
Central’s first three games are against opponents that reached the 13th Region tournament, including a season-opening game at 8 p.m. Tuesday against Woodford County, which lost in the region final last year, 3-1, to state powerhouse Henry Clay.
“With as many seniors and juniors that we have on this team we have pretty good expectations,” Anderson said. “We’re very balance, very organized and they have good team spirit going into the season.”
The Eagles only lost three players to graduation and will field 10 seniors this season.
Last year, Southern went 11-6-2, falling to Central, 1-0, in the district semifinals.
Back this season are senior defender Drew Taylor, senior midfielders Lucas Reynolds, Salvador Quintana and senior forward Alex Sipple.
“We played pretty good against everybody in the district last year,” coach James Ray said. “Everybody should be strong again this year. We hope we just keep getting better and by the time district roles around to be one of the top teams in the district and be ready to compete.”
One spot the Eagles are looking to fill is at goalkeeper.
Two players are battling for that spot, Ray said.
“That’s one position that will be key for us this year,” Ray said.
Southern opens the season Tuesday at Montgomery County. The first home game is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday against West Jessamine.
“We’re looking forward to this year,” Ray said. “The first week of the season should be a test for us. We’ll have a better idea of where we are and what we need to work on after that.”
Berea Community was hit pretty hard by graduation.
Gone are Major McGraw, Ben Lark and Chris Kidd, who combined to score 44 of Berea’s 50 goals.
The Pirates also lost starting goalkeeper Ben Miller.
With 14 freshmen and sophomores on this year’s roster, Berea is in rebuilding mode.
“We’re going to be focusing this year on a lot of fundamentals and basics and looking for a season of growth,” said Berea coach Casey Poynter. “We’re in a position of rebuilding and training some new goalkeepers, but we have a lot of young promising talent.”
Michael Powell is the only returning senior that will take the field on Tuesday when Berea travels to Burgin.
Powell played midfield last year, but will move to sweeper this season.
The only other experienced senior on the team, Isaac McFarland, is trying to recover from a knee injury and isn’t expected to be back until late in the season at the earliest.
Everyone else is young and lacking varsity experience.
“Most of their experience is at the JV level,” Poynter said. “This is a new experience for them. There’s a lot of room for improvement. We’ll capitalize on that by the end of the season.”
Last year Berea went 9-8-2, beating Estill County, 3-0, in the first round of district, before falling to Model, 3-0, in the semifinals.