For the Tribune-Courier
When the Marshall County Marshals soccer team rolls up to practice, the vision of forwards and defenders getting out of the driver’s side door is a beautiful sight to coach Andy Pagel.
Pagel’s seasoned stable of battle-tested veterans have finally come of age – literally.
“This is the year that we can say that most of our players are actually old enough to drive,” said Pagel, who enters his third season at the helm of the Marshall County program.
With a solid core of returning starters from a 17-7-2 campaign in 2012 that resulted in a First Region championship, expectations are high.
“We’ve got a lot of real game-time experience,” Pagel said. “We’re finally a mature, veteran team.”
Lofty goals are nothing new for the Marshals soccer program. Over the past 25 years, Marshall County has claimed 13 regional championships. In the past four seasons, the Marshals have captured three regional crowns.
“It’s how we measure ourselves around here,” Pagel said.
Marshall County’s roster is highlighted with three four-year starters in seniors Ethan Mensch, Blaine Skeen and Garrison Wagner. There are seven additional seniors on the roster – Blake Topper, Dalton Morton, Cody Koebel, Travis Tucker, Levi Collins, Tanner Gray and Nate Jones – who will contribute.
They will be pushed by a salty junior class. Standouts David Penney and Nathan Solomon lead a group of eight juniors who look to be in various roles in the rotation. Penny has started since his freshman season and was the district tournament Most Valuable Player last year. Solomon was a First Region tournament selection last season.
Juniors Robert Blankenship, Levi Darnall, Tanner Ellenberger, Matthew Hunt, Conner Jones and Dax Parker will see action as well.
“We’re going to have a lot of versatility with interchangeable parts,” Pagel said. “If someone isn’t playing well, we’re going to have six or seven players that can step in and fill their place.”
Solomon and Penney will be key cogs in the Marshals’ offense.
“We don’t produce goals at a high volume,” Pagel explained. “We’re not a flashy offense. In football terms, we want to control the clock. If the final score of a game is 5-2 or 6-0, someone didn’t play well. If the game is 2-0 or 3-1, then you know you have done your job.”
Darnall should play goal keeper for the Marshals.
Sophomores Luke Janiec and Tucker Lovett are two-way players that Pagel feels can contribute.
With trips to Bowling Green’s Purples Classic and Daviess County’s Panther Classic, the Marshals will be battled-tested when they hit the heart of their district schedule. Marshall will face state powerhouse programs such as Mercer County, Owensboro, Daviess County and Lafayette. Owensboro and Mercer County are coming off state tournament appearances from a year ago.
“It’s the toughest schedule in our area,” Pagel said matter-of-factly. “We’ve sought the toughest schedule that we could find. You can’t have an off night against this schedule.”
With a solid nucleus of returning starters, the Marshals are the heavy favorite in the District 2 race and should be challenged by longtime nemesis Graves County. Calloway County, Murray and Mayfield look to be in rebuilding mode.
“Our schedule should pay off in the postseason,” Pagel said. “But we know that the road to the Final Four goes through Henderson County.”