NEW FRANKLIN Coming off a PAC-7 championship a year ago, the Manchester Panthers have come out of the starting gate red hot this fall.
Entering this week, they had compiled a 5-0-1 record, dominating their opponents and outscoring them by a whopping 26-3 count.
"Our goal entering the season was to compete in every contest and to challenge for the PAC-7 title again," 10th-year head coach Scott Carpenter said. "I am also looking forward to going deeper in the playoffs this season."
All-Ohioan Gabe Sharrock is finding the back of the net early and often for the red and black; the junior standout set a single season school record scoring 32-goals last year and leads the area in scoring with 12 goals, including four-goal outbursts against Tuslaw (8-0 win) and Orrville (11-1 win).
"Gabe is a very dynamic player," Carpenter said. "He's very fun to watch."
Sharrock, who was named to the Associated Press' All-State second-team unit as a sophomore, is already attracting college interest and plenty of attention from opposing defenders.
He’s had plenty of support from seniors Damion Frasier (midfielder), Landon Lewis (midfielder), Tayron Lawson (midfielder), Michael Mundy (defender), Matthew Culp (defender) and Ben Podnar (goalkeeper).
With four other returning letterwinners beyond that group, the defense in front of Podnar has been solid as well. Podnar has allowed just three goals this year in six games, and has 13 saves.
"Ben (Podnar) has been great for us this year," Carpenter said. "He has improved so much over his four years. He has become a very good goalie."
Commenting about a few other returnee's Carpenter said, "Damion (Frasier) has great field vision and impressive foot skills. Landon (Lewis) has good speed, foot skills, and is threatening in every shot. He plays very unselfish."
Lewis is second on the team in scoring with five goals and has a pair of assists and with support from promising newcomers in the form of freshman forward Devin Allman and senior midfielder Colton Holloway, the Panthers have depth as well.
"We have 10 returning starters so felt we had a opportunity to be build something special," Carpenter said. "We have several teams on our schedule that were state ranked last year so we weren't sure how we would respond, but so far this team has met the challenge. We've had exciting victories over Triway and Northwestern (and) our defense and goalkeeping has looked strong, and our offense has been potent."
Manchester moved up to Division II this year, and competes in the Kent sectional/district, which includes the state's number top-ranked team in Revere. For now, the postseason is still a few weeks off and the Panthers are focused on keeping their strong start going for as long as possible.