HARTVILLE  The margin is thinner, but the Lake Center Christian Tigers are determined to hold the line.

In their second year in the Portage Trail Conference, LCC has gone from somewhat unknown entity to defending league champions and the consensus favorites to hold onto their crown. Veteran head coach Derek Taylor and his team are off to a 5-2 start and 4-0 mark in PTC play, but their wins so far have included several close calls and last-minute verdicts.

“If our first three league games haven’t told that story, I don’t know what would,” Taylor said. “Every game so far has been close and could have gone either way and that’s going to be the story line for us this year, the strong will these guys have to win those close games.”

LCC has the unique benefit of playing a full PTC schedule, but also maintaining ties to the Tri-County League in which the boys soccer program participated before its PTC days. Six Tri-County foes make up the rest of the non-PTC schedule and with 16 games against current or former league opponents makes for a lot of stern tests.

Taylor credited seniors Drew Domer, Riley Shultz and Nick Hopkins with providing the leadership necessary for a team that has graduated all of its top scorers from the past two seasons and is now looking to rebuild on the fly with talented new players who have done well in supporting roles in the last two seasons.

“We have a lot of young guys who don’t have a lot of varsity experience, but they’re hard workers, maybe harder workers than any year we’ve had in the past,” Taylor said.

Junior Caleb Bower has been one of the holdovers who has helped steady the Tigers, mostly with his play in goal, but occasionally as a striker when the coaching staff calls his number to step forward and provide an offensive assist.

Homer and C.J. Bancroft have formed a solid tandem at the back end of the formation and evidence of the Tigers’ growth with their new lineup can be seen in the result of a recent loss to Western Reserve. Last year, the game netted a 9-0 loss to Western Reserve, but this year the game was a scoreless tie with 12 minutes remaining.

In assessing how the Tigers have been able to win games despite reformulating their offense, Taylor pointed to the scrappy, physical style LCC has adopted as young players like Joel Myers, Christian Zavarelli and Owen Humbert have stepped up as sophomores to contribute when needed.

There’s also the matter of defending their PTC title from last season, a year in which they went undefeated in league play. It was a lofty standard to set for a program’s first year in a new league, but despite significant graduation losses, LCC isn’t backing away from the notion of defending its league crown. 

“It all connects together for us. We feel like year after year, we want to build on our success that we had the year prior,” Taylor said. “We also want to learn from some of the mistakes we made and our guys are really focused on winning the league title … they take pride in that and actually, they don’t want to lose a game again this season.”

The idea that the culture created within the program drives everything is the focal point for LCC. The expectation is to not be content with what has happened in the past or where the program is at right now while still appreciating what has been accomplished in the past and using it as a building block for what comes next.

Taylor said that he talks regularly with many of his fellow PTC coaches and believes that based on those conversations, the Tigers are considered by many to be the favorites to repeat as champions this fall. It would be a bold statement for the newcomers on the PTC block to win back-to-back titles and would further etch the program’s name in the school record books as the first to repeat as a league champion in any sport.

The margin between winning and losing might be a bit smaller this season, but LCC is hoping its still big enough to stay on top.

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