Game recognizes game.

Following a season that produced a fourth straight 5th Region title and a run to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Boys State Soccer Tournament semifinals, the Elizabethtown boys’ soccer program picked up all five individual awards for The News-Enterprise Coaches All-Area boys’ soccer team this year.

After earning two awards on the way to the Panthers’ All-Area clean sweep last year, junior striker Cole Varela followed up with his second straight Offensive Player of the Year nod. Varela finished with 24 points and three first-place votes to finish just ahead of Elizabethtown teammate Dylan Barnes at 22 points. North Hardin’s Cayden Logsdon followed in third.

Coaches nominated student-athletes from their team to be considered for a place on the All-Area team, as well as for individual awards. All coaches were considered for Coach of the Year.

Coaches then voted on a ballot based on nominations. Coaches could not vote for their student-athletes or themselves.

“Obviously it’s a pretty cool thing and I take pride in it because I’ve put in the work to get here, but I wouldn’t be here without any of my teammates really,” Varela said. “There’s some people that you just don’t see in the background, putting in the work to get me the ball to score. I’m sure other coaches around here know that, they’re smart, but I’m just glad they recognized me as a good player.”

Varela finished the season as one of Elizabethtown’s top scorers with 32 goals, second only to Barnes at 33. Varela also had 20 assists, behind only Barnes with 20.

“I’d say this year more than any, absolutely there has been the most chemistry that I have ever played with on a soccer team. Everybody worked for each other, played hard, knew what they wanted to do,” Varela said. “We all worked for each other and it’s on the striker. I’ve gotta put the ball away for all the hard work that the boys behind me do.”

With one more year of Elizabethtown soccer coming up, Varela is looking forward to seeing what he can do for the team as a senior.

“The goal for senior year is to get right back to where we were this year. Going into State, trying to go deep,” Varela said. “Then individually, I’m just trying to do as much as I can to help the team.”

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

LANDIN GRZELEWSKI, ELIZABETHTOWN

Grzelewski received 23 points and four first-place votes on the way to being named the area’s top defender, beating out North Hardin’s Jabari Rasheed with 19 points and two first-place votes. Central Hardin’s Chad Wilson finished third.

“For me personally, I’m not really too big on the individual stuff. I’m more proud of us as a team for winning another region championship, going to the final four and really reloading from last year,” Grzelewski said. “But I’m also very grateful for the award. It’s fairly easy whenever I have great guys all around me. A great goalie, great midfielders in front of me and great center backs on each side of me, so overall it makes it a lot easier to do my job whenever I have great guys all around me.”

Grzelewski was part of a back line that did not give opponents many scoring opportunities this season. The Panthers allowed just 29 goals all year and recorded 11 shutouts.

In addition to his work on defense, Grzelewski also had four goals and four assists.

“I think that me, personally, just taking on a new role, a new position to help the team where they needed me at, I think that was a big part and played a big part in our team success,” Grzelewski said. “We knew what we needed to do, we just needed to put the players where they helped the team most and putting me in a back position was just somewhere that they needed me and it all worked out in the end.”

While his Elizabethtown career has ended, Grzelewski plans to continue his soccer career at the next level, with an official decision expected in the near future.

After four years and four region titles, Grzelewski said he was most proud of this year’s team and what it accomplished despite the naysayers.

“It’s not gonna be the final chapter. I have some options lined up for where I’m gonna be playing next year. I’m still undecided, but I’m planning on making a commitment very soon,” he said. “This year will probably be the most memorable, because last year we lost 11 guys and everybody told us that we weren’t gonna be the same this year, that we weren’t gonna win Region or anything. We came out, went to the final four and proved everybody wrong. I think that’s most important, but obviously winning four region titles in a row is also a very big highlight, so those two are definitely gonna be the biggest things I remember about this year.”

KEEPER OF THE YEAR

JACKSON HOLT, ELIZABETHTOWN

Holt picked up 20 points and four first-place votes to be selected as the Keeper of the Year, taking the top spot over Central Hardin’s Nick Steele at 16 points. North Hardin’s Joey Stankovich finished third in the all-area voting.

“There’s a lot of great goalkeepers in this area and so I’m really proud to have been the coaches’ choice,” Holt said. “It feels good.”

Holt finished his senior season with 98 saves through 28 games played. He gave up only 26 goals and earned 10 shutouts on the way to helping the Panthers earn a trip to Lexington for the final four.

“I had a returning partner, Dylan Barnes, who’d come shoot on me occasionally, just practicing a lot of stuff like that. Just making sure I’m making simple saves consistently,” Holt said. “Being a leader on the field helps a lot. I had a great team around me too, so that helps.”

This past season was the final chapter of Holt’s high school career, but he has not ruled out the possibility of continuing to play at the next level.

Whatever the future holds, Holt said he will remember the family environment he and the rest of the team cultivated over his time at Elizabethtown.

“Right now I’m keeping my options open and talking to a couple coaches. I’d love the chance to continue my career at the next level. It’s been a dream of mine to play college soccer for a while now,” he said. “I think I will remember how close the team was. We all were friends and hung out on and off the field and shared the same goals. It was easy to go in and talk to (Elizabethtown coach Corey Yates) about soccer or anything else we needed to talk about.”

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR

ELI BEEN, ELIZABETHTOWN

Been got his varsity career off to a productive start this season and the area’s coaches took notice, selecting the freshman as the Newcomer of the Year with 19 points and two first-place votes. Elizabethtown teammate and fellow freshman Kobe Ryan followed with 13 points. Meade County’s Drew Emig took third in the All-Area voting.

“It means a lot to be selected by the area coaches, because there’s a lot of really good young talent in the area, especially people on my team like Kobe. He’s really good and we’re best friends off the field,” Been said. “There’s quite a bit of good talent in the area.”

Been finished the season with eight goals, putting him in a tie for fourth-most with Connor Goodman and trailing only Barnes’s 33, Varela’s 32 and Aaron Silva’s nine. He also had five assists.

“I think it really helped most that I was surrounded by some great players and there was such a great chemistry on the field and off the field with the team,” Been said. “Another thing was our coaches. They believed in me from the first day of the practice and they gave me some big responsibilities and gave me a lot of confidence to play in the middle, especially as a freshman on varsity. (Dylan Barnes and Jonah Shirts), they helped out a ton for me in the middle. Being new and stuff, they just taught me a lot of things.”

With three more seasons to go at the high school level, Been’s goals are to build on what he and his teammates have already accomplished.

“Hopefully we can continue the winning culture that’s been established for the past few years,” he said. “I need to get better. Right now, I’m playing with Louisville City Academy and hopefully I can just keep getting better and we can try to come back next year and just keep winning and get more district and region championships for the rest of my high school career.”

COACH OF THE YEAR

COREY YATES, ELIZABETHTOWN

Yates ran away with the Area Coach of the Year voting, receiving 26 points and five first-place votes from his peers. Central Hardin coach Austin Varela followed in second place with 13 points. Meade County coach Matt Pollock finished in third.

“It says a lot about, I think, the recognition of good soccer in our area from all the teams. We had a good go at it this year, but there were some games that the local district teams really gave us a run for our money,” Yates said. “Coach of the Year is more like Team of the Year because your team responds to how you coach. If they don’t do that, or you don’t do your job as a coach to get them to respond effectively, there is no award and there is no recognition, so it’s really on the players and it’s a team award.”

Yates also credited his coaching staff in making this kind of recognition possible as well.

“The coaching staff that we have, that’s been in place for several years now, they’re incredible. From them running their own training sessions, to their in-game coaching to the relationships that they’ve built with these kids, it’s a testament to what we as coaches, but them more importantly, created,” Yates said. “Those kids listen to them and they’re coachable because it’s quality coaching. I’m very proud of that and very proud of them for bringing this team along.”

Despite losing a large, talented 2020 senior class, the Panthers kept rolling in 2021 and turned a three-peat into a four-peat at the region tournament.

After losing in the first round of the state tournament the previous three years, Yates and the Panthers got over the hump this year, making it all the way to the semifinals in Lexington before falling to Paul Laurence Dunbar.

“No. 1 was the motivation to follow up probably one of the best classes that we’ve had come through, as far as numbers. Losing nine or 10 starters off that team, these guys had really waited their turn. I think that there was a bit of overlooking of this group. I can tell you right now, from day one, the minute we showed up, we didn’t have to say what our motivation was. Those boys knew it. We had to facilitate our style of play, we had to facilitate a system in which each one of these guys thrived, whether they were a starter or coming off the bench,” Yates said. “Also, they had a quality of play that no matter if we won or lost, the coaches were proud of them for how they played. The type of quality that they were playing with I think superseded anything that people I think were expecting and it led us on a great run.”

With returning talent and some younger players emerging, Yates expects Elizabethtown to continue to be in the mix for many seasons to come.

“We’ve moved into a different dimension with our program as far as expectations. We don’t even talk about a district championship any more. The minimum expectation for our teams at this point is a region championship and anything less of that is really seen as, I don’t want to say a failure, but we didn’t reach the goals that we had set out to accomplish,” he said. “It says a lot about the players in the last several years that they have been able to build this with the coaches and the coaches with them, for (the players) to have the understanding of where we want to go and how we’re gonna get there. That’s the most important part, is how.”

Matt Tyson can be reached at 270-505-1425 or mtyson@thenewsenterprise.com.

Matt Tyson can be reached at 270-505-1425 or mtyson@thenewsenterprise.com.

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