NEW FRANKLIN The Manchester boys soccer team is coming off a magical season that saw the Panthers tie a school-record with 14 victories in addition winning their first back-to-back Principals Athletic Conference championships.
This season hasn’t gotten off to the sparkling start the Panthers would have preferred, but the departure of standout Gabe Sharrock to Academy play and losing 10 seniors to graduation, a repeat of last fall’s 14-3-1 overall and 11-0-1 Principals Athletic Conference marks was bound to be difficult to repeat.
Gone are first-team all-league performers Damion Frasier, Landon Lucas and Michael Mundy, as well as all-league second unit choices Matthew Culp and Ben Podnar.
The biggest hole to fill for Manchester will be Sharrock, who broke the school's goal scoring record twice. He netted 38 goals a year ago after tallying 32 his sophomore campaign. He also tied the school's single season total points scored a year ago and was the PAC-7 player of the Year, as well as a second-team All-Ohio selection.
"Gabe is playing Academy soccer this year instead of high school," 10th-year head coach Scott Carpenter said. "Academy soccer is considered by many college coaches to be a better stepping stone into collegiate play. They play other academy teams from several states, and play longer seasons."
A 7-6 loss Monday to Northwest has the Panthers at 3-4-0 and 2-3-0 in PAC play, but despite a somewhat depleted roster, Carpenter remains very optimistic about the campaign.
"We're going to be a very young team this season with only two returning varsity starters but I expect that our team will improve each game,and contend for the league championship," he said. "Our biggest strength is our desire to get better."
The Northwest game showcased the playmaking abilities of one player who could fill Sharrock’s cleats, sophomore striker Devin Allman, who tallied four goals in the game along with an asset. Junior Pierce Adey added a goal and an assistant in the game, as did fellow junior Luke Gehm.
It was a tough night between the pipes for sophomore goalie Nathan Harmon, who had 14 saves, but is settling in as the season wears on. Along with seniors Luke Johnson (striker) and Patrick Bollas (midfielder), junior Noah Villers (defender), and sophomores Jackson Carpenter (defender), Brett Shaffer (midfielder), Caleb Olechnowicz (midfielder), Nick Hassan (midfielder), Dustin Hill (defender) and Luke Zuza (midfielder). Harmon is among those trying to keep the program on a winning track while it rebuilds.
Carpenter likes what the team has in its younger players.
"Pierce (Adey) is a fierce competitor. He has great foot skills and wonderful field vision," Carpenter said. "Devin (Allman) is a speedy, quick striker with great foot skills, and a knack for attacking the goal."
The schedule looks to be tough the rest of the way for a team seeking its fifth league title under its coach, having captured the PAC crown in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017.
"We have some very good teams on our schedule this season Berlin Hiland, WRA, Doylestown Chippewa, Northwestern, Triway, CVCA, and Northwest to name a few," Carpenter. "The last three (Triway, CVCA, Northwest) are probably the top three teams we will face in our league. We have a desire to compete with them for another title."
A 9-2 loss to Northwestern to open the season underscored that point and the defense is a step behind the offense at this point, but Carpenter and assistant coaches Mark Noble, Jim Jordan and Tanner Crowder are firm in their belief that the young Panthers can grow quickly and adapt to the challenges in front of them.