DRAFFENVILLE – Hard on the heels of some World Cup enthusiasm in the U.S., fall brings high school soccer season and great expectations in Marshall County.
The Lady Marshals are the reigning Region 1 champions and the Marshals were edged in last year’s region final on penalty kicks by Graves County.
Fact is, fans were hot for soccer in Marshall County long before this year’s World Cup fever. The school has produced one of the best progams in the state over the past decades.
In 21 years, Don Walker coached the Marshals to a 319-114-26 record, No. 4 all-time in Kentucky boys soccer; Stacey Bradley (241-54-2 in 1 years) is No. 3 on the girls list.
Present coaches Andy Pagel, in his fourth season after replacing Walker, and Michael Boone, who took over from Bradley in 2007, have kept their programs stepping along nicely and expectations, both within the programs and throughout the region, are for more of the same this year.
20-6-0, Region 1 champions
The 2013 season ended in a 1-0 defeat at Bowling Green in the first round of the state tournament.
On the way to that disappointing loss, the Lady Marshals snapped a two-year absence from the region and returned to the champion’s place in the region tourney for the first time since 2010.
“We expected to win the region championship and that was not the ultimate goal,” Boone said.
“I don’t want to bring down the fact that we’re regional champs again, but I also don’t want them to think that’s our ultimate goal.”
The goal this year is not just to make it back to the state tournament, but to make a deep run in it.
“We talked about the Bowling Green game,” Boone said. “I felt like last year we had a decent chance to play with the final eight teams and we fell short.
“We want to get to that [first-round] game again this year and be on our home field, and the next step would be to go to Lexington the next week.”
Missing from the lineup will be forward Toni Fehrenbacher, who graduated after scoring 26 goals in 26 games last year.
But the team’s two other top scorers, Cami Jones (28 goals, nine assists) and Kayla Travis (26 goals, eight assists), return for their senior seasons.
“We’ll probably move Cami and Kayla into the middle where Toni played last year,” Boone said.
Fenrenbacher was a rugged, overpowering player, while Jones and Travis depend more on finesse and technique.
“They’re not as physical as Toni was but a little different touch,” Boone said. “It will be interesting. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep up with goal total that Toni put up.”
Allie Fiske, who allowed only 24 goals in 25 games last year as a freshman, brings the experience of that season back for her sophomore year.
Boone noted the improvement Fiske made over the course of the season.
“We allowed a number of goals early on, and then started coming together later in the year,” he said.
“We were able to shore up the defense. In the last 10 games, we were averaging under a goal per game.”
Boone is confident that the offensive potential is there, and he wants to make the defense just a bit more stingy.
“We want to allow less goals than we did last year,” he said.
Jones is one of six seniors on the roster, and Travis will be a sophomore this year. Boone sees great promise in some of the younger players stepping up to varsity this year.
“We will be deep,” he said. “We will have some players that may be used to starting more than they will be this year.”
Boone sees Marshall and Graves as the top contenders for the Region 1 title this year, as they were last year.
“It’s about the same,” he said. “Graves lost a couple of players, we lost a couple of players; they bring back players that we had trouble containing last year. I would see us as the top two teams again.”
He included McCracken County and Murray on the list of contenders.
16-8-0, Region 1 runners-up
Pagel saw a double-figures crop of upperclassmen move on from last year’s Marshals squad, and that’s the way he likes it.
“We had 10 seniors and four of them are off playing small-college ball somewhere,” he said. “Some others could have.”
That leaves a hole for him to fill, but the fourth-year coach wants that to be a recurring situation.
“It’s what we want to have year in and year out,” he said. “In past years, we had classes 10 deep on a regular basis and we’re trying to get there.”
This year’s team won’t lack for experience, in spite of the losses to graduation from last year’s roster.
“We have eight seniors back and they’re all good ones,” Pagel said. “As for the juniors, I’m ready for several of them to step up. I have an idea who’s going to be out there for our first scrimmage and it will include all of our seniors. Now we’re trying to identify the next six players that are going to get in the rotation.”
Two of this year’s seniors led the team in scoring last season. David Penney booted 20 goals and added nine assists, while Nathan Solomon was close behind with 18 goals and eight assists.
One of last year’s seniors, Garrison Wagner, scored 11 goals.
Last year’s season ended in disappointment when the Marshals fell to Graves County 2-1 in a penalty-kick shootout in the region championship game.
That brought back painful memories of Pagel’s first MCHS team, which fell in the region to Heath on penalty kicks in 2011. The Pirates went on to win the region title.
But in between those two heartbreakers, the Marshals won the region title in 2012. They fell to Henderson County 2-0 in the first round of the state playoffs.
The goal this year is to move beyond that.
“Last year we talked about championships and I think that team felt like they were on a mission, and we fell short,” Pagel said. “It wasn’t about lack of preparation or lack of approach by the players. Let’s erase it and get back to the building blocks.”
Pagel sees his team as a co-favorite in this year’s Region 1 race, along with Paducah Tilghman, Graves County, McCracken County, Murray and possibly others.
“The district is improved,” he said. “There are five or six teams that can win.”