NEW FRANKLIN Wherever the postseason leads, the 2017 season will go down as an historic one for Manchester boys soccer.
As a team, the Panthers won a second straight Principals Athletic Conference championship, finishing the regular season with a 13-2-1 mark, including a 11-0-1 record against league competition.
Individually, junior Gabe Sharrock broke his own school record with 36 goals, besting the mark of 32 he tallied as a sophomore.
"I've been very impressed with our team this season," head coach Scott Carpenter said. "We started off the season with high hopes of winning our school's first soccer back-to-back championships and we have succeeded."
Entering the campaign, Carpenter believed this team had the ability to accomplish something no other Manchester team has done. Still, accomplishing that feat against a tough slate took a lot of work. The key, according to Carpenter, was keeping the Panthers focused and motivated.
"I knew we had a talented team coming into the year," he said. "I knew that if we were able to keep them focused and motivated, they would achieve great things."
Sharrock, who is drawing a lot of interest by colleges, reached single-season scoring milestone by netting four goals against Fairless on Oct. 11 in his team's 7-0 rout of the Falcons.
"Gabe (Sharrock) is an exceptional athlete, good listener and a great kid," Carpenter said. "He is extremely fun to watch. He is the finish portion to our offense. He has a great supporting cast, that allows him to have offensive freedom to score up front. I am lucky to have a team of very talented athletes that work their tails off to get the ball to him. After Gabe broke the scoring record last season, I jokingly told him, he needed 40 goals this season. He very nearly got that."
Sharrock hasn’t been the only weapon on offense, as other top scorers include Landon Lucas with eight goals and 12 assists, Devin Allman with six goals and four assists, and Damion Frasier with three goals and six assists. Carpenter credited Frasier with being the center of the offensive attack thanks to his dribbling and creativity. Lucas, meanwhile, has used his versatility to fill multiple roles and according to his coach, he’s been able to thrive in each spot.
The defense can get lost amidst all of the offensive success, but on the back end of the field, Ben Podnar, Michael Mundy, Matt Culp, Daniel Cope and Tayron Latson have helped steady the team. Podnar has 46 saves and six shutouts from the goalkeeper position.
"They have been consistently great for us," Carpenter said. "One of the best defenses we have had at the school."
Picking out one highlight from a memorable regular season is tough, but Carpenter pointed to a win over Northwest as one standout moment.
"We had a game against Northwest that the boys really wanted to prove something," he said. "(We) won in impressive fashion, and it seemed to really change them knowing that they are a good team."
Tournament play opened Tuesday with a win over Ravenna, sending the Panthers on to the next round in a bracket Carpenter characterized as "arguably the toughest district in the state."