DRAFFENVILLE – Andy Pagel, a Texas native, admits he used to be an American football guy.
“I think football is more important to people in Texas than basketball is to people in Kentucky,” Pagel said – a strong statement that ought to get some attention (and, perhaps, an argument or two) in these parts.
His family moved to Marshall County when Pagel was 10 years old, but instead of becoming a basketball convert, Pagel discovered soccer. Now, he’s gearing up for his first season as head coach of the Marshals soccer team.
Pagel replaces venerable coach Don Walker, who retired.
“I played football for a few years” at Marshall, Pagel said. “But I saw the soccer program was growing.”
From his time as a player for MCHS in the 1980s, through his years as a scholarship soccer player at Kentucky Wesleyan University in Owensboro, through 11 years as an assistant to Walker at MCHS, Pagel is intimately familiar with the dynasty that Marshals soccer has become.
“I’m not the pioneer, but I was on some of the early teams that turned the page,” Pagel said. “The first winning season was my sophomore year (1988). The first regional title was my junior year. Then, my senior year was our first state playoff appearance in the final four.”
He fully intends to keep the dynasty going.
“Since our first regional title, we’ve won the region 12 out of 22 years,” he said. “We feel like the ones we didn’t win are ones that got away. And I told the boys on day one, if our goal is not to win the regional title, that’s not Marshall soccer. And we plan to be a co-favorite every year or be there in the end.”
That attitude starts with this season. Walker’s final season ended with a 14-7-3 final record, district and regional championships (of course) and a trip to state, where the Marshals were eliminated by Greenwood 2-0.
Gone from that squad are six seniors, but Pagel is excited about the core group of players coming back.
He listed seniors Riley Solomon and Chris Maier, who started last year at the left and right back positions, and forward Tyler McKenty. He also singled out Brock Herndon, who as a sophomore last year “was one of the top players in the region, and [who] will be heavily called upon this year as a junior,” Pagel said.
“But we’ve got to find the combination in the middle,” Pagel said. Losses to graduation included midfielders Patrick Flanary, Jeremy Edmonds, Sawyer York, Mitchel Stelter and Tanner Reed.
Another question mark is goalkeeper.
But Pagel is excited about several young players, including Ethan Mensch, Blaine Skeen and Garrison Wagner, all of whom started last year as freshmen.
“The growth they have made this year is amazing,” Pagel said.
Pagel’s relationship with Marshall soccer as a coach dates from 1995, when he began teaching at North Marshall Middle School. He served two years as an assistant to Walker and then accepted the head coaching job at Calloway County High School.
But after one year, he was back in Marshall County, and back on Walker’s staff.
“It didn’t work out,” Pagel said of the stint at Calloway. “We’d built a house in the community here and we were getting ready to start a family. So I came back in ‘98 to be Coach Walker’s assistant.”
The relationship lasted through the 2006 season, when Pagel stepped down to work with his young daughters in youth soccer.
“We won seven or eight regional titles together. It was a good relationship. I just needed to step away and re-energize,” Pagel said. “We had some amazing times and we’ve been to a few final four trips together.”
When Walker announced his retirement last year, Pagel applied.
“It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that I would get the job,” he said. “But the idea was I would wait until the job became available and put my hat in the ring.”
Tryouts began last week, but the MCHS soccer team has been to summer camp in Louisville where, Pagel says, “our kids excelled.”
He expects more excellence when the season begins next month.
After all, that’s the norm for Marshall County soccer.