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Elizabethtown doesn’t plan on being down for much longer.
Having missed the Boys’ 5th Region Soccer Tournament the past three seasons, a veteran squad is raring and ready to change the Panthers’ fortunes.
“I feel good because I like where we are right now and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a few things,” said Elizabethtown coach Jon Parsons. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re making our way back up to where we need to be.”
Led by the return of four players who earned spots on last year’s All-Area Team — first-team junior goalkeeper Kaileb Bennett, second-team senior attacker Cody Bridges, second-team junior midfielder Nick Coffman and honorable mention junior defender Matthew Puckett — the Panthers look to exorcise the demons of last year’s 10-12-1 campaign, which ended with a 5-3 loss to eventual region champion Central Hardin in the 17th District Tournament semifinals at Fort Knox.
Twelve other players return from last year, too, which means there are only seven new faces on this year’s 21-player roster.
“We are a lot more experienced. We have played a lot of young people the last couple of years and the upperclassmen and have stepped up and played well so far and they’re leading by example,” Parsons said. “They’re doing things on and off the field that they should be doing and I think we’re a lot farther along than we have been. We’ve gotten bigger and gotten stronger and the boys have worked really hard in the offseason.”
Bennett tied for runner-up in Defensive Player of the Year voting last season.
“Kaileb’s just a natural athlete. He has great instincts and he’s kept us in games a lot the past couple of years,” Parsons said. “With the defense being stronger, I look for him to shine even more this year.”
Sophomore Josh Sumrall will be a sweeper or stopper, while senior Faizan Bhatti will be the other center defender. Both players were defenders last year. Puckett and senior Patrick Scheiber, a converted midfielder, could see time as outside backs as could sophomore Hunain Abri, senior Nick Lawson and senior Hassan Nasir, who sat out last year while focusing on tennis after playing soccer as a sophomore.
“I’ve got a few choices in the back honestly. I’ve got several guys I can rotate in and out,” Parsons said. “Josh and Matthew are doing a really good job of organizing and keeping everybody in their shape. We’re aggressive in the air and we’ll go at you. We’re getting the fundamentals down and that experience we gained last year has really helped us and they’re doing really well.”
Joining Coffman in the midfield is junior Mehdi Haddouch, who moved from France but is not an exchange student. Bhatti could also see time in the midfield, as could junior Aaron Martin.
“They see the field really well,” Parsons said of his midfielders. “They’re making good touches and making good decisions. We’ve been attacking pretty well as a team. We’re getting up together and we’re getting back together. The good thing is they’re all comfortable with the ball at their feet, so we’re going to try to hit them a lot and try to let them create.”
Junior Cole Denton and senior Hunter Gray are the wings.
Bridges will be joined up top by Martin or Cole Denton.
Other players Parsons is counting on are junior forward Alex Scheiba, senior forward Bryce Owens, junior defender/keeper Jacob Dvorjak, senior forward Bill Moran, junior defender Connor Casey, freshman midfielder/forward Hogan Gray, junior defender Nathan Hill, sophomore defender/midfielder Conor Lineberger and freshman midfielder/defender Clayton Elmore.
“Overall, I’m happy with where we are right now,” Parsons said. “We’re getting better and better. We’ve still got some inexperience at spots, but from what we return from last year, we’re ahead of the game from where we were.”
Nathaniel Bryan can be reached at 270-505-1758 or email@example.com.