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Panthers poised to defend titles

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By Kristin Beck

The Panthers soccer team looks to defend its 31st District and NCKC Conference titles this season. The team boasts a good balance of both experience – five seniors anchor the team – and youthful talent, however the bench will be shallow. 

“The upside on low numbers is we have more quality players than quantity,” head coach Ben Crutcher said. The team has about 25 players. While there are few middle school players, some have never played soccer before.

The team will lean heavily on their seniors – Michael Hall, Taylor Byrd, Mark Ogburn, Michael Hedges and Michael Burns. Newcomers who will make an immediate impact on the team are freshmen David Marshall and Guillermo Cruz, Crutcher said.

Key players returning this year are Denis Perez, Tyler Tuttle, Brett Hall and Cody Damron. Players who also will contribute off the bench are Alex Burns and Tyler Stewart.

The Panthers lost five seniors off their banner-winning team, but Crutcher said he believes this year’s squad could do just as well as last year’s team and definitely has the talent to repeat as district and conference champions, barring any serious injuries.

“This is my 10th year coaching the team, and this is the most well-disciplined team I’ve ever had,” he said. Despite their youth, the team takes feedback well and picks things up quickly. They also have brought a lot of intensity to their scrimmage games so far. 

The team laced up their cleats last Saturday night against the Panther alumni – including last year’s seniors. The varsity Panthers were down 2-0 at halftime, but turned things around in the second half. 

Crutcher said he told the boys that they had 10 minutes to “change the goose egg” because he was going to start subbing them out. He said he wanted to win the alumni game, but was not willing to risk the players getting injured and keeping the team from doing great things this season. The varsity Panthers accepted the challenge and tied the game off goals by Hall and Cruz. 

“I was pleased that they battled back and did not give up,” Crutcher said. “I think I’ve got 13-14 guys that are solid and going to play.” 

He also liked that the 11 starters were able to play a full 50 minutes without any substitutions.

Crutcher said he added some bigger schools to the schedule to test his team. The Panthers may not win as many games this year, he said, but he thinks this will help them get better prepared for district play. The Panthers will take on regional opponents North Oldham, Shelby County, Simon Kenton and Grant County during the regular season. 

“They’re really young, but I’ve got a great core,” Crutcher said. “Based on what I saw in the alumni game, I’m looking forward to this year and seeing what they can do.”