By JASON BROWN
Last year, Mahomet-Seymour’s boys’ soccer players and coach Andrew Kennedy finished with a 15-6-2 record and took home the IHSA Class 2A Regional championship when they upset host Urbana.
This year, after losing 14 seniors to graduation, Kennedy will have to compete for the regional championship with a completely different team.
"Those 14 seniors who graduated were a big part of the varsity squad the past two seasons," said Kennedy. "This team will automatically have a different make-up as it will be populated with guys with heavy varsity experience and some with very little— if any—previous varsity experience."
The Bulldogs returned a mix of young players and experienced ones.
M-S returned 11 letter- winners but has had three sophomores playing varsity from the start of the season.
"We will be looking for returning seniors and juniors to set a tone that requires others to strive for greatness and demand maximum effort from their peers," Kennedy said. "There is a void left when 14 players graduate, and while we have some guys in mind, we are going to let the early season play out and see who ascends to a leadership role."
To achieve another regional title, the team will have to perform well against area opponents to receive a seed that puts them into the semi-final.
"This will require these players to form a bond and develop their own identity as a team," said Kennedy. "It can be done but it will require sacrifice and a focused, shared goal among themselves. I’m not quite sure we are there yet at the start of the season, but fortunately we have some time to figure each other out and gel as a team."
Last year’s team enjoyed a deep bench, but this year’s shorter bench depth already has been tested with injuries to the Bulldogs’ starting outside backs and other players.
Kennedy believes as the season continues the team will be able to once again regain that "next man up" mentality.
"I feel our youthful roster will be a challenge to start the year," he said. "That being said, we still have a large number of upperclassmen on this squad so that learning curve should not take too long to adjust to."
The team’s strength should be its offense, and Kennedy hopes a quick-striking offense will give his team an advantage to score first and put their opponents on their heels.
"You never want to play from behind," said Kennedy, "but this year it feels more important that we draw first blood against opponents."
Kennedy is looking for great things from Garrett Kraft, Andrew Johnson and Evan Lundstrom.
"Kraft was more than patient last year as the back-up and we hope that he really seizes this opportunity as his time to shine," Kennedy said. "Evan Lundstrom was our ‘Energizer bunny’ last year. No matter the situation, he always seemed to have something left in his tank to make a difference.
"Whether the hard stats are the same or not from last season, we know we can count on Evan to bring an unrivaled passion to each and every game. His desire is to see the team win, anything else is secondary to that final result."
Ethan Mansfield was a freshman who filled in admirably as a varsity player last year, but this year he has started from the first game.
"Starting with us from the jump will allow him to fully immerse himself on the varsity roster," said Kennedy. "Unfortunately he was injured in our first game against Metamora and has seen limited action since then."
The only returning senior center back starter on the squad is Coleman Maves.
Maves will look to lead the back line along with fellow senior Luke Myers, who usually plays left back. Unfortunately, Maves is currently out due to injury.
Jarrett Brunner is another of the six returning seniors who will be a key player in controlling the midfield.
"His tenacity has been greatly appreciated by his fellow teammates as he has twice received the team ‘Rocky’ award, which goes to the player who fights relentlessly regardless of the opponent," said Kennedy. "He knows how to take a punch and just keep rolling on."
The final retuning senior is Dylan Rogers, who is eager for a successful senior year.
Rogers missed a part of his junior year because of injury and has worked relentlessly in the off-season to get ready.
Rogers is off to a great start, scoring in three of the first four games.
Kennedy has found an interesting detail about his third year as M-S head coach.
"In years past I had coached most, if not all, the kids on varsity due to previously being the JV coach," said Kennedy. "This being my third year means that I will have a significant number of players who I have not coached directly until this season."
The season so far
The Bulldogs kicked off their season last Tuesday against Metamora, then traveled to Champaign for a match against Centennial before hosting the Bulldog Invitational Tournament at Middletown Field Saturday.
To open the Bulldog Invitational, M-S defeated Mt. Zion 7-0.
Goals from Rogers, Felipe Artola and two by Lundstrom gave the Bulldogs a 4-0 halftime lead. Rogers, Artola and Lundstrom each had an assist.
The Bulldogs tacked on three more goals in the second half.
Rogers again scored on an assist from Joah Moore, and Trevor Burgess scored unassisted.
Bryan Retallick assisted Joah Moore for the final score of the game.
During the championship game, the Bulldogs lost to Washington 2-0 in a game that was called at halftime because of inclement weather.
Against Centennial on Thursday, M-S jumped out to a 2-0 halftime lead when Artola assisted Rogers and Kerry Lippold on goals.
Centennial scored a goal off of a corner kick, but the Bulldogs held on for the 2-1 win.
In the season opener, M-S and Metamora battled to a 2-2 draw.
The Bulldogs scored both their goals in the first half.
Lundstrom scored a goal and assisted Rogers on a goal. Lippold assisted Lundstrom.
The boys’ soccer team is scheduled to enter the 4th Annual Urbana Tournament at Randy Blackman Field Friday and Saturday.