Without two of their top performers from the fall of 2014, the New Hanover boys soccer team has a tough challenge ahead if they want to defend their run of back-to-back league titles as a talented group of opponents look ready to unseat the Wildcats atop the Mideastern Conference.
Coming off a 21-7 mark and trip to the 4A East Regional, T.J. Rennie is back as fourth-year head coach at New Hanover, with 17 letter winners returning from last season.
“The four Wilmington schools will all be very good this year,” said Rennie, who stands 58-17-4 all-time as head of the Wildcats’ program. “Realistically, anyone can finish in the top four spots.”
A couple of players to look out for on the New Hanover side include captains John Evans and Jack Kiernan, midfielder Shaffer Lisle and defender James Henry.
“We will be counting on John and Jack to be our leaders,” Rennie added. “John is incredibly hard working and skillful, while Jack is an attacking player who will look to create opportunities for us going forward. Shaffer is battling back from injuries and could be a huge key for us, if healthy, and James is an outstanding, athletic outside back and effective communicator.”
New Hanover is off to a 4-2-1 start in non-conference play and wrapped up a 2-0 result against Chapel Hill High School on Saturday.
Laney High School
While New Hanover has been enjoying success at the top of the league for the past two seasons, Laney High School has not been far behind and fourth-year coach Jamie Noble thinks this can be the year the Bucs break through.
“We lost a lot of key contributors from last season, but looking to reload with players who got some valuable experience and contributed to the success of our team,” said Noble. We have massive amounts of potential, but have to be willing to convert that potential into reality.”
Laney went 10-2 in conference in 2014 and 21-4-2 overall. The Bucs made the fourth round of the state playoffs for the third time in four years and return 12 players from the roster.
“All of the teams in town will field quality sides and I think the league is going to be very balanced,” Noble added. “I don’t know there will be a dominant team, but there will be a lot of parody, which should make for some very entertaining and competitive matches this season.”
Noble thinks it’ll be important for the Bucs to find their form early in the year and build team chemistry. He says they are beginning to understand the talent on paper doesn’t always translate to the field and need to be willing to work in order to get things accomplished. The front man at Laney has a career overall coaching record of 67-21-6, with one year at Heide-Trask.
David Dailey, Tristan Nelson and Robert Atkinson will look to control play in the midfield, while the efforts of Wesley Nelson and Nathanial Lorenz could help push the Bucs over the top.
The Bucs are currently 3-0-2 heading into a non-conference match against Cape Fear Academy on September 1. Laney has 16 goals for and just four goal against through five games.
Ashley High School
The new kid on the block regarding coaches among New Hanover County Schools is Ashley first-year coach Greg Marinich. He brings a good deal of experience to the sidelines after taking over for Giles Roberts and has been working with the Screaming Eagles since being named head of the program just before the end of school in April 2015.
Marinich has noticed a ton of individual talent on the pitch, but hopes to bring those pieces together as one solid unit to make the Screaming Eagles competitive in conference.
With 14 players back from last year, Diego Abraham and Duenis Arriola will look to navigate the midfield early on alongside Juan Bernardz, Matt Fletchner and Epsin Gilbert-Jennings.
“Diego has a solid soccer IQ and Duenie always put in a ton of work,” Marinich said. “Playing as a team is probably our biggest weakness so far and we hope to build that chemistry through practices and as we get into the season.”
Alex Bautista and Zack Smith are versatile competitors who can play back-to-front and Ryan Keller will keep things stable on the end line as Ashley’s goal keeper. Other players to lookout for include seniors Josh Barnello and Drew Walters, in addition to Dominick Toone.
The Screaming Eagles are off to a 4-0 start with two road games ahead this week. In four matches, Ashley has a 13-5 goal differential.
Hoggard High School
Beginning her second season as head coach of the Hoggard Vikings, Kristin Ayscue is optimistic about her team’s chance to compete for a division title inside the tightly packed Mideastern Conference.
Hoggard lost 10 players from last year’s side, going 10-8-1 overall and 7-5 in league play. The Vikings bring back 11 total letter winners including, Andrew Robinson, Kyle Carter, Cesar Cruz, Austin Redenbaugh, Patterson Carroll, Keaton Simmons and Jared Robertson.
Ayscue believes passing and team comradery are two of her team’s strengths, while finding ways to put the ball in the back of the net proves to be one of the Vikings’ challenges heading into the early part of the season.
Hoggard has a 3-1-1 mark heading into games against Wallace-Rose Hill and Jacksonville over the next week.
Cape Fear Academy
The Cape Fear Academy boys soccer team is already off to a 3-1-2 start after getting their season underway August 13-14.
Led by 11th year head coach Meade McFarlane, the Hurricanes are looking to build momentum in the Coastal Rivers Conference, with Fayetteville Academy and neighboring Coastal Christian among the perennial favorites in league play.
“Our goals are to finish in the top two spots in the conference and earn a playoff spot,” said McFarlane. “Fayetteville Academy, Coastal and Parrott Academy are tough conference teams and those six games will go a long way in determining if we reach our goals.”
Without two of their top players from last season, who accounted for more than 50 percent of their goals, McFarlane will need to rely on a mix of youth and experience to find the back of the net.
“The older players have quickly woven the new players into the team resulting in good chemistry,” McFarlane added. “We play a competitive schedule early in the season and hope that readies us for some tough conference games. We have two strong keepers to replace David Durham, a five-year starter. We had our largest senior class in my time at CFA last year. The returning players need to step up and fill that void.”
To go along with what McFarlane believes will be a strong group of freshmen making contributions to the team, returning to players to keep an eye on include, Bernard Austin, Zach Tomosunas, Matt Bangert, Robert Schuett, Tony Batchler and Barton Williams.
“Bernard had a fine junior season in the midfield and we look forward to him having another strong year,” said McFarlane. “Zach has a ton of experience in a variety of positions, while Matt is our leading returning scorer from last year.