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HAC-I boys soccer: Nothing guaranteed this soccer season

SUN-GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Lewisburg players react after losing in the PIAA Class AA semifinals last fall against New Hope-Solebury. The Green Dragons hope to get back to the state playoffs but the team knows with the COVID-19 pandemic, nothing’s guaranteed this year.

None of Lewisburg’s players forgot what happened in November last year at Hamburg. It was on that bitterly cold night the Green Dragons came up shy in the PIAA Class AA semifinals by losing to New Hope-Solebur. The loss stung nearly as bad as the whipping winds did.

But coach Ben Kettlewell doesn’t want to the team to harp and dwell on that loss entering the 2020 season. While it is serving some motivation, Kettlewell has a different approach to the season.

“This year our focus is just being together and the rest will take care of itself. We will continue to enjoy every practice and trying to improve every day,” Kettlewell said. “This year, our priority is to finish the season.”

It’s a sentiment most coaches share. The 2020 season is going to be far from a typical one. The COVID-19 pandemic means that nothing in the fall is guaranteed, and teams are hoping they can have a full season, let alone playoffs.

“I think if we finish a season, it’d be great. I really am at a loss as to how to feel about the season to be honest. The season could literally shut down for any team at any time,” Williamsport coach Lee Kaar said. “We’re following the guidelines the district has in place for our guys to participate, so I’m just hoping that’ll prove to be beneficial. So, unfortunately, I have no idea what to expect.”

It’s been a unique offseason due to the coronavirus pandemic to say the least this summer.

“It’s been weird for sure. Typically in the summer we get to play a bit at workouts, but that was out of the question,” Central Mountain coach Billy Hook said. “The guys did a great job following the restrictions set in place and we just focused more on indivudual skill and fitness over team play.”

Lewisburg is coming off a remarkable 22-1-1 season and brings back a lot. Among those returners is Ben Liscum, a captain for Lewisburg last year and the only active player who was a member of the Sun-Gazette all-decade boys soccer team of the 2010s. And having that experience and leadership is a huge benefit for the Green Dragons.

“Ben is a leader on and off the field. he is a captain again this year and continues to grow as a person, which helps our team,” Kettlewell said. “We expect a lot of him as a leader of our team.”

The Green Dragons also bring back solid defensive standouts in Eli Adams, Alan Daniel and Simon Stumbris and goalies Tony Burns and Evan Hopkinson. There’s also Anthony Bhangdia — a dangerous scoring threat alongside Liscum — James Koconis, Jack Dieffenderfer and Lucas Jordan.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Williamsport came up shy of winning the program’s fourth consecutive district championship after losing in a shootout to Wilkes-Barre in the semifinals. That loss is something the upperclassmen at Williamsport are remembering as the 2020 season begins and are using it to fuel them.

“The upperclassmen definitely remember the end of last year and seem very motivated to earn a shot at another district title. What’s nice is that we have some incoming freshmen who are eager to prove their worth on the pitch as well,” Kaar said. “Last year’s semifinal loss was tough. We actually played well, it was a good game back and forth. To lose in a shootout is difficult, but maybe remembering that gives us a little edge for the next time we’re in a situation like that.”

Elliott Wannop returns for Williamsport in goal, a player who was huge throughout all last season. He’s one of numerous players that returns for Williamsport, which includes midfielders Owen Kaar, Kaleb McKeon and Jimmy Pombor. Williamsport has both its leading scorers back this year in Pombor (18 goals, 10 assists) and Hemberth Pena-Vasquez (11).

Jersey Shore first-year high school coach Mitch Cornelius is no stranger to the Bulldogs’ roster as he coached a number of them with travel soccer, indoor soccer and futsal.

Cornelius knows Jersey Shore has a very young roster — 16 players are sophomores or freshmen — but he’s looking forward to what the season brings, especially from the defensive unit.

“We are going to be incredibly young at the defensive back position. We will be replacing all of our defensive backs from last year,” Cornelius said. “Owen Farr and Peter Bellomo are two sophomores who we are expecting big things from.”

The Bulldogs narrowly missed the postseason last year, going 8-9-1. The team should get an offensive boost as HAC all-star Alex Butzler and Ezra Miller are returning. Miller missed most of last year due to an injury. But the two up top should be a great combination to attack the net.

Cornelius expects Jersey Shore’s midfield to be strong this season as well with HAC all-stars Connor Cornelius and Eli Reibson back, in addition to Riley Welshans and Ross Fuller.

Central Mountain is coming off its best season last year since going 12-6-1 in 2015. The Wildcats went 5-12-1, the most wins the team’s had in the past four seasons. Central Mountain’s goal is to build off that success last year.

“We return quite a few players, so not improving will be a let down. We know the PHAC means a tough game very single time out, but I know the guys on the team will enjoy the challenges we will be facing,” Hook said. “A winning season will be our goal. With the new guys we have coming back, they really are hard-working guys who want to improve. Improving on our five wins will be the first step, and then aiming for a winning season will be next.”

Central Mountain brings back Chase Young, a fourth-year varsity player who has been a huge key for the Wildcats’ attack. The team also has Taylor Weaver and Jcakson Walker, two starters from last year returning who Hook noted looked great in offseason workouts. Nate Brinker is a sophomore who received HAC recongition last year and is a player who scored some goals and could have a breakout season.

WILLIAMSPORT

Coach: Lee Kaar

Assistants: Dave Confair, Brett Johnson, Phil Marrie

League: HAC-I

Last year: 11-7 (10-2 HAC-I) (lost to Wilkes-Barre, 2-2 (SO), in District 2-4 Class AAAA semifinals)

Roster: Seniors: Michael Collyer, Shakeem Daley, Tyler Fausnaught, Thomas Harper, Kaleb McKeon, Hamberth Pena-Vasquez, Elliott Wannop. Juniors: Andrew Boll, Ethan Freynik, Logan Hall, Jimmy Pombor, Brett Young. Sophomores: Evan Beiter, Jett Johnson, Owen Kaar, Josh Lake, Zach Lake, Jack Murafka, Logan Thomas, Dayvon Boyd. Freshmen: Angelo Casas, Calder Diakite, Soliman Elgabry, Blaze Huntington, Indigo Koch, Quentin Mazzante, Steven Pena-Ruiz, Connor Poole, Alex Pricher, Sam Radulski, Teigen Staver, Cole Wheeler.

CENTRAL MOUNTAIN

Coach: William Hook

Assistants: Alex Terry, Kevin Hook, Chase Tackett

League: HAC-I

Last year: 5-12-1 (4-7-1- HAC-I)

Roster: Seniors: Ryan Alexander, Damon Cherry, Grant Cole, Blaine Falk, Cy Probst, Marcus Smith, Chase Young. Juniors: Noah Bakajj, Gabe Coakley, Clay Confer, Cooper Confer, Eva Gross, Bryce Glossner, Josh Kiebler, Caden Malek, Logan Myers, Jackson Walker, Tommy Walker, Taylor Weaver. Sophomores: Nate Brinker, Isaiah Conoway, Blake Falk, Ben Fortescue, Braylon Gentzel, Kelvin Probst, Kyle Stahl. Freshmen: Caleb Young, Cayden Weaver, Asher Talbot, Pierce Long, Peyton Jones, Taylor Heaton, Jack Grieco, Zane Cooper, Bronson Brungard, Colby Bakaj.

LEWISBURG

Coach: Ben Kettlewell

Assistants: Nick Ferguson, Matt Salsman, Logan Cho, Stephen Pavlov

League: HAC-I

Last year: 22-1-1 (12-0 HAC-II) (league champions; def. Hughesville, 7-0, in District 4 Class AA playoffs; def. Wellsboor, 6-0, in semifinals; def. Midd-West, 3-1, in championship; def. Wyoming Seminary College Prep, 4-0, in first round of PIAA Class AA tournament; def. Lansdale Catholic, 2-0, in quarterfinals; lost to New Hope-Solebury, 2-1, in semifinals)

Roster: Seniors: Elijah Adams, Anthony Bhangdia, Alan Daniel, Jack Dieffenderfer, Jack Drouin, Lucas Jordan, James Koconis, Ben Liscum, Stephen Tiffin. Juniors: Simon Stumbris, Matthew Rawson, Philip Permyashkin, Nicholas Passaniti, Julien Mercado-Bonanno, Ian McKinney, Caleb Kim, Evan Hopkinson, Carter Hoover, Gary Hahn, Anthony Burns. Sophomores: Reese Dieffenderfer, Mason Fassero, Henry Harrison, Justin Jun, Zachary Kreisher, Matthew Reish, Alfred Romano, Darrien Svilokos. Freshmen: Jackson Ramsey, Paul Permyashkin, Noah Pawling, Edward Monaco, Caden Michaels, Joel Harris, Evan Gill, Trace Cassidy.

JERSEY SHORE

Coach: Mitch Cornelius

Assistants: Steve Shrodo, Colton Miller

League: HAC-I

Last year: 8-9-1 (5-6-1 HAC-I)

Roster: Seniors: Logan Bailey, Ross Fuller, Eli Reibson, Ezra Miller, Riley Welshans, Alex Butzler. Juniors: Connor Cornelius, Noah Kline, Kyle Mundrick, Gauge Bilbay. Sophomores: Peter Bellomo, Nick Bellomo, Carter Stackhouse, Peyton Welshans, Breck Miller, Owen Farr, Dillon Rhea, Brock Smith, Caleb Ross, Dillon Ferrar. Freshmen: Daniel Marshall, Isaiah Reibson, Dante Thomas, Gage Thomas, Cameron Fishel, Cooper Lauer.

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