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Eastbrook looks to take next step

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

After an impressive postseason run, the Eastbrook boys’ soccer team is dreaming big about the upcoming season. 

The Panthers feature a veteran team and last year finished 14-4-1 and won the school’s first sectional championship. After defeating Bellmont in the regional semifinals, they battled Fort Wayne Concordia for 80 scoreless minutes in the finals before Concordia won the title on penalty kicks.

“Every team is new and there still is that feeling out process,” Panthers coach Adam Hallis said. “I know the guys have big expectations, and they spent a good deal of the offseason working out playing club and doing some things.

“I just want us to play good looking soccer and if that team does that I think we’ll do well,” he added.

Amid high postseason expectations, Marion played Concordia before the Panthers in the regional semifinals and after a 1-all tie in regulation also lost on penalty kicks. While 13 seniors graduated, Giants coach Jorge Berry expects to field a team at the end of the year that can contend for a third straight sectional title and 11th in 13 years.

“I think we’ll have a good season, we’ll just have to work a little harder than we have in the past,” Berry said. “We have always been athletically gifted, but this year I have more total soccer players who have touch, can dribble and shoot on target ... skill-wise, we will be better than last year’s team.”

Oak Hill with a veteran team is poised for an outstanding season after finishing 7-7-3 last year and new coach Joel Garverick embraces the expectations. Garverick moves up from assistant, replacing Jared Reel who moved on to Mississinewa.

“We definitely want to compete for a sectional and then we want to compete for regional as well,” Garverick said. “We’re setting the bar high because we’ve got a lot of potential and we’re looking to chase that.

“We’re not shy about that we’re willing to say we’re going to chase after it and also beat some of the top teams on our schedule,” he added. “... We want to be very goal driven about the things we are pushing for.”

Reel takes over a Mississinewa team that finished 2-12-1 last year and has four seniors. At Oak Hill, he built a program that won a sectional title in 2016 and expects to eventually build a contender with the Indians.

“I think we’ll be more successful this year than they were last year,” Reel said. “I am bringing in a different style of soccer than they were accustomed to and they are just getting used to how I coach and how to develop as a team.

“I have some athletes - I just got to get some soccer players to go with that athleticism. This year will be a little bit of a struggle, but as the years progress they will learn how to play the game and not just kick the ball around.” 

Eastbrook’s strength should be its midfielders where seniors Noah Ross and Zane Shilts are fourth-year starters and senior Andrew Siegelin is another veteran mainstay. Ross is the Panthers’ top returning attacker with 12 goals and nine assists which led the team, and Shilts contributed six goals and six assists.

Collin Burman is back after missing last year with an injury and will be the primary striker, replacing the graduated Stephan Lakanen who scored 11 goals last year. Garrett Holder and Elijah Shutt are among a deep group of ball strikers that Hallis will employ.

“The way we set up, it can be anywhere from five or six players (who will shoot) and I don’t know that you’ll see us run through one scorer. ... We like to spread it around that’s the style we play.”

Conner Raikes and Luke Abston are returning starters in the defensive backfield but will play different positions this season. Jacob Huber returns to goal and allowed 14 goals and made 53 saves last year.

Marion returnees accounted for eight goals out of 45 scored and Devante Boyd scored three times. Boyd will take over as the Giants’ primary striker with returnees Isak Lagerkvist, JD Fagan and Kyle Coryea taking over offensive roles. Brendin Dixon is a move-in from Oak Hill and shows promise at a forward position.

The top returning defenders are Zach Stephens and James Bell, the team co-captains, while Joseph Powell and Darian Lollis also step into defensive positions. Three players are vying for the vacant goalie position, with senior Josue Mora getting the nod.

“Some of my returning players are realizing how important they were to the team and they have to pick up the slack,” Berry said. “Without question, we will eventually will be good right around state tournament time, but right now we are rough around the edges.”

Oak Hill features senior Isaiah Henry, one of the county’s most dynamic offensive players who scored 10 goals last year. Luke VanBibber scored three goals last year but will have a greater role this season.

“Isaiah Henry definitely will be someone we look to create some offense scoring goals and creating assists as well,” Garverick said. “He’s a real talent. This will be Isaiah’s and Luke’s fourth years as starters, and they are going to have a great supporting class around them filling some those gaps this year.”

Will Haley returns at goalie and the top defenders are Gabe Overmyer and Matthew Hershberger. Midfielders Brody Gibson and Tommy Seybold have the ability to control the field.

“We want to be the best team we can be, and if that’s the best team in the sectional, best team in the county then whatever that means we’re looking to compete at the highest level,” Gaverick said.

The strength of Ole Miss’ team is goalkeeper Conner Layman, and Colin Yoder was the top goal scorer with four and just a sophomore. The Indians received a boost when Noah Black came out after sitting out last year and is an offensive threat and freshman transfer Holden Brown from Eastbrook brings soccer experience. 

“I have a couple players in Colin Yoder and Noah Black and they’re very skilled and athletic kids who help the other players,” Reel said.